A Tesla driver with a blood alcohol level nearly double the legal limit claimed his electric vehicle was in self-driving mode when it slammed into the back of a parked firetruck in California.
The car was driving, the man told the highway patrol Monday morning. The driver explained that his Tesla electric vehicle “had been set on autopilot,” allowing him to sit in a drunken stupor while the car transported him to his destination.
The excuse didn’t work. He was ultimately arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence, according to the California Highway Patrol. Local officials did not identify the man, but they say it is never permitted to be drunk behind the wheel.
Nobody was injured in the in the Bay Area wreck. Firefighters were parked in the emergency lane and car pool lane, responding to a crash on the other side of their truck when the man careened into the rear of the emergency vehicle, according to the San Jose Mercury News. The wreck comes as tech-types continue haggling over the future of self-driving vehicles.
Tesla warned customers that the car’s autopilot system is not fully autonomous — the company instructs drivers to be alert while employing the self-driving function. “Autopilot is intended for use only with a fully attentive driver,” a Tesla official told The Washington Post shortly after the wreck.
Yet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk sometimes sends mixed signals about what lays in store for the vaunted California company.
“[T]he cars will be increasingly autonomous,” Musk said last summer, according to a WaPo report in 2017. “So you won’t really need to look at an instrument panel all that often. You’ll be able to do whatever you want: You’ll be able to watch a movie, talk to friends, go to sleep.”
Tesla’s self-driving feature has been criticized in the past.
Federal investigators determined in 2017 that a California driver involved in a car wreck had his hands on the wheel of his Tesla Model S for a mere 25 seconds during a nearly 40-minute car ride. He was using the vehicle’s auto-feature during the wreck.
Joshua Brown was killed last year after his vehicle plowed into a tractor-trailer on the highway. Investigators determined the cause of the wreck, but eyewitness reports indicate Brown was watching a “Harry Potter” movie at the time of the accident. His death sparked discussion about the safety of Tesla’s auto-feature.
“The expectation of Tesla is that the driver is alert and vigilant, ready to take over at a moment’s notice,” Ryan Eustice, a professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, told reporters in May shortly after Brown’s death. Drivers become bored and place too much trust in auto-driving features, he added.
Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, who devoted his career to studying semi-autonomous technology like Tesla uses, echoed Eustice’s sentiments, telling reporters that Tesla owners will likely have to decide between safety and convenience.
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