This Model S driver apparently nodded off as the car crept through traffic with Autopilot engaged. A video posted to YouTube by Electrek shows that he’s not exactly in the right condition to take the wheel should a problem arise. If this driver had fallen asleep in a regular car the result would have been an instant fender bender, at a minimum, but then again he might not have been tempted to do so if the car wasn’t equipped with Autopilot.
Numerous examples of people overestimating Autopilot’s capabilities and the near-disasters that have resulted already populate the internet. Autopilot doesn’t turn a Tesla Model S or Model X into a self-driving car, and so the driver cannot mentally check out. Tesla has said drivers should keep their hands on the wheel at all times, and remain alert.
Some Tesla drivers, however, have shown a remarkable amount of confidence in a system the company itself considers to be in the “public beta” stage. In its current form, Autopilot is primarily designed to work in dense traffic on roads with clear lane markings. Tesla plans to further improve and tweak the system with software updates, but for now its capabilities are somewhat limited.
If the system decides a human driver should take over, it will emit sounds and display visible warning messages. If the driver is literally asleep at the wheel, like the person in this video, then the car will turn on its hazard lights and attempt to maneuver to the right shoulder where it will stop. It would be interesting to see how the system would accomplish that if, say, the car was in the middle lane with heavy traffic in the right lane leaving no gap.
Self-driving cars for the everyday consumer may eventually become a reality, but for now, humans are still in charge of driving. Today’s driver aids and autonomous systems are very clever, but they are not substitutes for an attentive human at the wheel.
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