A gut-wrenching video from ABC7 Eyewitness news shows a man fast asleep in the driver’s seat of a Tesla on one of the busiest highways in Southern California.
“I realised he was fully sleeping,” eyewitness Shawn Miladinovich told NBC4 News. “Eyes shut, hands nowhere near the steering wheel.”
Minutes later, while taking a Freeway exit, the driver was still reportedly unresponsive. The only thing that appeared to be touching the steering wheel was a tie of some sort, probably to stop the warning system from kicking in.
It’s a crazy scenario that’s been happening all too often in the past year. In March, another Tesla driver in California was caught sleeping at the wheel, and in May, a drunk Tesla owner decided to let his car drive him home.
It’s not just in the United States, either. The Dutch police recently pulled over a driver who had fallen asleep on Tesla’s autopilot.
The newest instalment has gone viral online, with many on social media quick to point out how irresponsible the whole situation was.
“Technology makes people lazy and stupid,” wrote one of these Facebook commenters.
This is, no doubt, at least part of the story, but another factor may simply be sheer ignorance. The race to create the best driverless car has led companies like Tesla to make lofty promises that, so far, they have been unable to keep.
At first, Tesla was supposed to have a fully autonomous vehicle by 2018. After missing that mark, Elon Musk has now said he is confident they will have one by the end of the year, and that human drivers will be able to go completely hands-free and eyes-closed soon after that.
Despite all these goals, today no such technology exists, and some think we are still far from that reality.
In the US, the federal highway safety authorities have laid out five stages of driver assistance technology. The first stage is when the driver controls the vehicle with only some assistance features, while the fifth stage is when the vehicle is capable of performing all driver functions under all possible conditions.
Tesla’s autopilot feature is only at stage 2 or 3, which means the cars are only partially automated in certain conditions.
“Autopilot enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane,” Tesla’s website explains. “Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
Getting past these stages has proved surprisingly difficult, and in all likelihood will take longer than has been promised. Writing about Musk’s bold timeline, for instance, Forbes contributor Lance Eliot expressed his skepticism.
“Overall,” he concluded, “there was nothing today that showcased proof that Tesla cars will be performing as true Level 5 driverless car this year, nor next year, nor any time soon.”
So perhaps its “laziness and stupidity” that’s causing all these dangerous decisions, or maybe it has to do with all the hype surrounding self-driving cars. Whatever the reason, some customers clearly do not understand the distinction between an Advanced Driver-Assistance System and a fully autonomous vehicle.