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Screenshot from Kenosha County Sheriff's Department dashcam.

Autonomous Vehicles

Tesla Autopilot Might Have Saved Life Of Driver Who Fell Asleep At Wheel In Wisconsin

On May 18, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department posted a statement on Facebook about a traffic stop investigation in Kenosha County, Wisconsin. The statement noted that on May 16, a deputy was dispatched to I-94 northbound for a report of a Tesla whose driver appeared to be asleep at the wheel as it crossed over the Illinois/Wisconsin state line.

The deputy spotted the vehicle as it passed STH 158 on I-94 and approached the vehicle from behind. After this, the deputy pulled alongside it to watch the driver and noted that the driver’s head was down. The driver was not looking at the road.

The deputy activated his lights and siren to initiate a traffic stop and the driver didn’t pull over as the deputy followed behind it for around 2 miles going at 82 miles an hour through Kenosha County.

It was when the deputy pulled alongside the Tesla again that the driver noticed he was being stopped. He pulled over. The driver was in his Tesla alone and was identified as a resident of Palatine, IL. The deputy questioned the driver, who denied being asleep and in the statement. The deputy noted that the driver didn’t seem to have any type of impairment, but did say that he was tired.

The statement from the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office mentioned Autopilot but did not share whether or not Autopilot was engaged. However, the deputy gave an interview and said that Autopilot was engaged.

The official statement on the department’s Facebook page mentioned that the vehicle was a 2019 Tesla with Autopilot capability. The statement also pointed out that Tesla mandates that the operator keeps their hands on the steering wheel at all times and always maintain control of the vehicle while using Tesla’s Autopilot feature.

The deputy who pulled the Tesla owner over, Sgt. Wright, gave an interview (above) and added more details. He pointed out that the car was in its own lane and the driver had his head back and mouth open — appearing to be asleep — according to the person who called the police over the issue.

The driver also seemed to be asleep when Sgt. Wright got to the car. “I also observed on the front screen of the vehicle … Autopilot engaged — a Navigation engaged mode.” (This seems to refer to Navigate on Autopilot, with Sgt. Wright simply forgetting the precise name for it in the middle of the press conference.) Sgt. Wright then went on to explain that he had an older Tesla but that it didn’t have Autopilot. He also shared the benefits of Tesla’s Autopilot. “When other vehicles are around you, it’ll maintain the speeds of the other vehicles and with the steering capability, it’ll actually keep you in your lane and take you from an onramp to an offramp, including assistance with stop signs.” Naturally, though, the driver needs to remain attentive and not sleep — even for a moment. Sgt. Wright reiterated this.

Sgt. Wright noted that this wasn’t the first time this particular vehicle had been looked up. There were two other times, but in each case, the vehicle had crossed the state line and the agency could no longer make a traffic stop. It is suspected the driver was asleep in those instances as well. One horrifying takeaway is that the driver didn’t seem to remember any of this and denied being asleep.

Editor’s addendum: There are two main possibilities here. One is that the driver is routinely using Tesla Autopilot in an incorrect and unsafe manner, trusting it to drive on its own and without supervision while he sleeps. It’s not clear how the system doesn’t end up beeping loudly at him and disengaging if this is the case, but it could be that he keeps his hands on the wheel while sleeping. The other core possibility is that he is accidentally falling asleep while driving. As we’ve reported previously a couple of times, a stunningly high percentage of drivers have reported falling asleep while driving, and the percentage is even high looking at recent driver behavior — not “just” that they have fallen asleep once or twice in their lives while driving. Indeed, an enormous number of people on the road at any given moment are seriously fatigued and drowsy. This is not to say that either occurrence is okay, but if this story concerns the latter scenario (the driver is accidentally falling asleep rather than intentionally abusing the system), it’s quite possible that Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot functionality has saved his and/or others’ lives. Not all cars would keep him safely driving according to the rules of the road while asleep. In any case, though, it seems that he needs to find a way to adjust his habits in order to not fall asleep at the wheel again.

 
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Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

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