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When Tesla designed its semi-automatic driving system function, it likely didn’t imagine that drivers would use commuting as an opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. Still, that’s just what one man in Wisconsin did on May 16. The driver was caught with his eyes closed as his 2019 Tesla raced down Interstate 94 at 82 MPH with the Tesla semi-automatic driving system engaged.

A woman uses Tesla Autopilot on the highway.
A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S electric automobile | Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

How Did he get caught?

Lucky for him (and everyone else on the road), the Tesla didn’t crash, as some have while operating semi-automatic driving systems. A fellow motorist happened to notice that the man behind the wheel looked a little too…relaxed. She followed him and honked her horn to get his attention, but it wasn’t enough. When she couldn’t rouse the sleepy driver, she called the police. 

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Did he get in trouble?

The deputy who responded tried to pull the driver over, even varying the police car sirens. This didn’t wake up the unconscious driver. Two miles later the police officer pulled alongside the Tesla and finally the driver woke up. The deputy noted that the driver’s head had been back and his mouth opened.

A driver goes hands free while using Tesla Autopilot.
A Tesla Motors Inc. Model S car equipped with Autopilot | David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Although the Tesla driver denied being asleep, he did admit that he was tired. The police officer issued him a citation for inattentive driving and dropped him off at a gas station with instructions to pick up his car later. In an interview, the officer stated that the same Tesla had been reported twice before for the same thing, but police were unable to stop him when he crossed state lines. 

Does the Tesla Autopilot function mean drivers don’t have to drive?

It’s called Tesla Autopilot, but it could be Tesla Semi-Autonomous. The Tesla semi-automatic driving system design allows drivers an increased amount of comfort and safety, but it doesn’t void the responsibilities of operating a vehicle. Tesla Autopilot drivers should keep their hands on the wheel at all times, just like when driving a regular car. 

Tesla’s semi-automatic driving system has safety features which keep the car from being truly driverless. Unfortunately, some drivers have learned how to fool the car into thinking that there is a (coherent) driver behind the wheel. Until Tesla improves its autonomous capabilities, or federal regulations do a better job of governing self-driving cars, drivers are going to need to be vigilant. 

Is the Tesla semi-automatic driving system safe?

When misused, Tesla’s semi-automatic driving system can be dangerous. Several recent crashes have been tied to Tesla’s semi-automatic driving system. A man crashed into a state trooper in Washington, and another man died when his Tesla crashed into a tractor-trailer. Tesla drivers need to follow the guidelines of operating a Tesla semi-automatic driving system, or risk their own lives, as well as the ones of everyone around them.


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