The idea of having fully autonomous or self-driving cars has long captured our imagination. A recent incident on the 405 Freeway in Orange County involving the driver of a Tesla who appeared to be fully asleep at the wheel, however, made fellow motorists who witnessed the incident by surprise.
NBC 4 in Los Angeles reports that last month, Shawn Miladinovich had a bit of a shock when was driving on the 405 freeway near Westminster. In the left lane next to his, Miladinovich noticed the driver of a Tesla sedan who appeared to be sound asleep while driving at speeds of between 60 – 65 miles per hour.
Miladinovich remained in proximity to the Tesla, and its slumbering driver for nearly 30 miles before exiting the freeway at San Pedro. During that time, a passenger who had been riding with Miladinovich took a video of the incident.
Video revealed that the driver had somehow tied something around the steering wheel of the Tesla to ensure that the vehicle continued on its course. If, Miladinovich told ABC, the device had slipped off of the steering wheel, it could have potentially ended in a serious accident.
According to a spokesperson at Tesla Motors, the company said that its current Autopilot feature is intended to be used to assist drivers with tasks that can be performed automatically such as acceleration, braking, and steering. But the company insists that Tesla drivers should be awake and aware at all times.
“Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”
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A possible explanation for the rigging of the steering wheel by the sleeping Orange County driver is that Tesla’s Autopilot system can sense whether or not there is adequate resistance or torque on the steering wheel. The company said that if this is not present, the vehicle’s internal warning system will give a series of both audible and visual warnings to bring the vehicle under the driver’s control.
Industry experts believe that fully autonomous vehicles are probably won’t be available for a decade or even longer.
The California Highway Patrol indicated that if the driver is identified and found, he could be ticketed for the incident.