A Tesla owner was found passed out at the wheel after driving 70 miles on autopilot and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol Friday. The man fell asleep at the wheel and if Tesla's built-in safety feature it eventually pulled over and stopped driving. The driver was identified by California Highway Patrol as Los Altos planning commissioner Alexander Joseph Samek.
Samek had the Tesla autopilot function turned on at the time he was pulled over, but the CHP is still investigating before it will come to a final conclusion, according to Officer Art Montiel. The incident occurred around 3:35 a.m. when a CHP officer saw a gray Tesla Model S going southbound on Highway 101.
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Samek's Tesla was clocked at about 70 mph near Whipple Avenue in Redwood City, according to Montiel. He added that the officer who pulled alongside the car noticed the driver appeared to be sleeping. The officer then tried to pull over the Tesla but there was no response from the vehicle.
Using some quick thinking, the officer decided to try another approach, pulling in front of the Tesla. Since Samek would not wake up, the officer pulled in front of the Tesla and slowed down believing that if the vehicle's autopilot function was engaged it would slow the Tesla down when it sensed an object ahead.
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While the first officer attempted to get the Tesla autopilot to pull over the car, another officer was running a traffic break behind it to keep other vehicles from traveling past the unique situation. The Tesla finally came to a stop in the No. 3 lane north of Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto, a full seven miles from where the officer first spotted the sleeping driver.
Officers were able to wake up Samek and put him in a patrol car before taking him to a nearby Shell gas station while another officer drove the Tesla to meet them. Once at a safe location, officers conducted their traffic stop and had the Tesla towed from the Shell. The driver, identified as Los Altos 45-year-old planning commissioner was arrested for DUI, according to Montiel.
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Samek works as a real estate developer and was only serving his first term on the Los Altos Planning Commission which is responsible for advising the city council on planning and other infrastructure issues. He was recently appointed as chairman of the panel just last month. Montiel said drivers need to be able to control their vehicles.
"What we know is that people who are using driver-assist mode need to know they are responsible and aware of their surroundings while the vehicle is in motion," he added.
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