Driving While Asleep At The Wheel For Seven Miles?!?

Allegedly, that’s what a California man did just days ago. The man was asleep at the wheel and presumably intoxicated while his Tesla Model S cruised down the highway in Autopilot mode. The California Highway Patrol was able to safely bring the man’s car to a stop by maneuvering in front of the vehicle, and decreasing the police car’s speed. This action activated the Tesla’s emergency sensors, eventually causing the vehicle to stop on the highway. The car had traveled approximately 7 miles before the situation was under control.

Tesla’s Model S Autopilot mode is designed to steer, accelerate and brake without driver assistance. However, Tesla’s Autopilot is not intended to replace a live driver. However, perhaps the term “autopilot” tempts the driver to test the limits of this feature. Tesla claims that drivers understand their driving responsibility and the Autopilot mode limitations. Despite this assertion, Tesla’s Autopilot has been implicated in a number of accidents involving injuries, and 2 fatalities.

SAE International, a US engineering organization, has developed a scale in which cars can be classified by the level of automation they contain. For example, Level Zero is a car that contains no automation. Level Two would be a car that has “driver-assist” technology, such as Automated Braking Systems, Forward Collision Warning Systems and Lane Assist. However, these technologies intend for the driver to keep his or her hands on the wheel at all times. Level 5 Autonomy requires absolutely no human intervention. A Level 5 vehicle has no pedals, brakes or steering wheel. The vehicle controls all tasks and monitors the environment as a human would. Currently, there are no Level 5 autonomous cars operating on public streets and roads.

Thankfully, the recent incident in California ended peacefully, although the driver was arrested for drunk driving and sleeping while driving. Perhaps the man’s lawyer will argue that he wasn’t technically, “operating” the vehicle at the time of the stop. What do you think about autonomous vehicles and their future in our country? Who is at fault when an accident occurs involving an autonomous vehicle? Do the advantages of self-driving vehicles outweigh the inevitable growing pains of development and testing, when such issues may lead to accidents, and even fatalities? Are states and governments doing enough to pass laws to keep up with the rapidly advancing technology?

Scott Bonebrake is a general practitioner in Media, PA, and has been a licensed attorney for over 23 years. If you or someone you know is involved in a car accident and have questions, feel free to contact Scott at 610-892-7700, or at sbonebrake@noelandbonebrake.com.