That didn’t take long. A driver was caught napping in the driver’s seat of his Tesla Model S on Sunday while the car inched along a congested LA freeway.
There’s only one problem: The Model S is not an autonomous vehicle. Rather, Tesla’s futuristic-style cars are equipped with a semi-autopilot system designed to give drivers a smidge of hands-free liberation on a severely limited basis. That means it’s probably not a good idea to catch a few z’s, no matter how cool your car is.
The few autopilot systems that exist still require drivers to be alert at all times. Anything less likely has bad implications for you, your car, and the drivers who happen to be nearby. Motor Trend caught wind of the video and reached out to Tesla for a statement. The company was quick to reply, describing its auto system as “designed to provide a hands-on experience to give drivers more confidence behind the wheel, increase their safety on the road, and make highway driving more enjoyable.”
Proponents of autonomous vehicles have championed their cause in recent years, as the technology has advanced to a new level of sophistication. We’ve even written about the benefits of autonomous vehicles and what the future may look like down the road. But this is a perfect example of how drivers are taking a relatively fledgling luxury for granted. There’s not enough evidence to suggest that “hands-free” translates to “hands-off.”
In the same article, Motor Trend points out that owners of self-driving cars are responsible for the actions of their property, meaning the sleepy driver from the video would be liable for any crash that he or his car may cause. It’s a logical conclusion. From a legal perspective, however, the case precedence has yet to be written. There’s no telling how a case like that might play out.
The bottom line at this stage? Keep your hands on the wheel.