Picture it. You are a Canadian cop, the nemesis of speeding miscreants and are cunningly concealed in shrubs near the highway. Your income generator (sorry, radar gun) starts bleeping madly. A blue sedan swoops by and your well-trained eye notices something wrong.

Galloping moose antlers! The driver is either pint-sized, or there is no driver. Pedal to the metal, sirens whooping and your set of prowler interceptor lights (on special offer from Walmart) flicking blue, white, red, you pull alongside. There is a driver and a passenger. But their seats are at a 75-degree angle, and they are both fast asleep. 

You look at your trusty income generator: 150km/h. This is something new.

Ponoka Stampede vs Tesla

After all your years of serving the people of Ponoka, Alberta (population 7 229) and squatting at the intersection of Highway 2A and Highway 53, about 59km from the other bustling metropolis of Red Deer, nothing this exciting has happened. Well, not since the Ponoka Stampede, the town’s seven-day rodeo when a horse threw a rider through the front window of MacDonald’s. 

Then you notice. It is a 2019 Tesla model S. The indignant driver explains that the “autopilot” was engaged. You give him a ticket, anyway. He was speeding, obviously tired and therefore earned a 24-hour licence suspension so he could get some rest. Later, reinforcing your good judgment, he also earns a court appearance for dangerous driving.

Tesla autopilot gone horribly wrong

The Canadian incident (on 17 September 2020) made it two Tesla incidents in two months.

An American driver in North Carolina crashed his Tesla into two police patrol cars. His autopilot was on, and he was awake, but admitted that he had been watching a movie. It would have been almost poetic if the movie were Smokey and the Bandit, but nobody has disclosed the title.

Local media said that the Tesla hit a deputy sheriff’s vehicle first, then bounced into a state trooper’s car, knocking both patrolmen to the ground. Neither of the officers was injured.

The driver, a doctor, was charged with watching television while operating a vehicle (there is a law for that?) and violating the move-over law.

Sleeping drivers ‘could make SA roads a safer place…’

So here is the serious stuff. 

South Africa could benefit from having sleeping drivers behind the wheel, and our highways would be much safer. But our government, like Canada and the United States (US), would probably not look kindly on drivers having a quick kip.

Technology once again is outstripping authorities’ ability to pass legislation that keeps pace with manufacturers who are continually adding fancy technologies to their cars.

The Canadians say:

“Although manufacturers of new vehicles have built-in safeguards to prevent drivers from taking advantage of the new safety systems in vehicles, those systems are just that: Supplemental safety systems. They are not self-driving systems; they still come with the responsibility of driving.”

US investigations into Tesla autopilot crashes

In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has begun investigations into more than a dozen Tesla crashes dating back to at least 2016 when it believes autopilot was in use. 

Tesla, on its website, says that the autopilot system is designed to “assist you the most burdensome parts of driving”. It also “enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane”.

But it warns that it “requires active driver supervision” and does not make the car autonomous. For now, however, the autopilot feature is only intended for driver assistance and a driver must be ready to intervene at all times, the manufacturer says.

Hurry up, Elon

Tesla CEO Elon Musk gets back into his Tesla after talking to media before visiting the construction site of the future US electric car giant Tesla, on 3 September 2020 in Gruenheide near Berlin. Tesla builds a compound at the site in Gruenheide in Brandenburg for its first European ‘Gigafactory’ near Berlin. Image: Odd Andersen / AFP

Elon Musk, who must have been thinking of home when he introduced the autopilot, is not ready to declare defeat. He recently announced that Tesla engineers were “very close” to developing a completely autonomous driving system, the basics of which he is confident will be completed this year.

Hurry it up, Elon, I am looking forward to driving to Durban overnight soon and need to arrive fresh after a good night’s sleep.

Onlineautos
Author: Onlineautos