That's sophisticated cruiser control!

Late last week at 3:30 in the morning, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) noticed the driver of a gray Tesla Model S seemingly asleep in his car. Unfortunately, it was going 70 miles an hour down Highway 101 in Redwood City at the time. Fortunately, it was on Autopilot, which kept it in a single lane and responsive to traffic ahead of it.

The officer's quick thinking led to a very elegant solution to getting the unresponsive driver, along with other motorists, out of a dangerous situation. Over seven minutes, they created a running traffic break, slowing down all the lanes behind the Tesla while another cruiser maneuvered in front of the electric sedan. That police vehicle then began to slow to a complete stop, which caused the Model S to also slow and stop.

Officers then knocked on the window and gave verbal commands, arousing the driver, one Alexander Samek, from his apparent slumber. He was placed in a cruiser and taken to a gas station (of all places) where a breathalyzer test was administered (see video above for footage). He was then arrested. Samek, who runs a multi-billion-dollar real estate outfit, The Kor Group, was contacted by SFGate on Friday, but refused to talk to reporters.

The incident raises some interesting questions, the most puzzling of which is how Samek managed to keep the car operating while seemingly asleep. If Autopilot does not detect a driver's hands on the wheel it will ask for some input using visual and audio prompts. This usually occurs every 30 seconds or so. If it does not receive any feedback, it will slow the car to a stop and turn on the hazard lights. This didn't seem to occur in this case.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk addressed the situation on Twitter (tweet embedded below), reiterating how the car should behave under Autopilot and saying that he is looking into this particular situation. In another tweet (embedded below) he also added "...adding police car, fire truck & ambulance to the Tesla neural net in coming months," meaning, we believe, that Tesla vehicles will then be able to distinguish first responder vehicles from others.

Some have taken advantage of the situation to criticize Tesla Autopilot — and, by extension, the Advanced Driving Assistance Systems (ADAS) available in many other vehicles — claiming that it encourages people to drive under the influence.  We think that while this may or may not be true (and we hope to see the integration of a driver-focused camera as is used in Cadillac's Super Cruise which can tell if a vehicle operator is alert and watching the road), it is still, overall, a safety benefit.

Although automakers should certainly consider how to counter criminal misuse of their vehicles, ADAS can greatly diminish the risk of a crash if a driver suffers a medical emergency and loses consciousness. While there have been a couple of high-profile fatal accidents in Tesla vehicles functioning on Autopilot, the company takes the position it is a positive contributor to safety. We have also seen a number of videos which appear to show the system avoiding crashes. It is also worth noting that Autopilot is constantly being improved and the entire fleet that has the system enabled is updated with any new changes on a regular basis.

Source: SFGate, YouTube