A grey Tesla Model S was found driving Highway 101 early Friday morning around 3:40am. The car was going about 70 miles per hour when noticed by CHP officers. The officers noticed that the driver seemed to be slumped over and possibly asleep. Their attempts to get the driver’s attention failed, prompting a different patrol car to get in front of the Tesla in an effort to hopefully engage the driver assist function and stop the car. Their maneuver was successful, and the officers were able to stop the vehicle and get to the driver. According to Officer Art Montiel of the CHP, “Officers went up to the driver’s side and tried to wake up the driver. It took a while to wake him up.” The officers then placed him in a patrol car and one of the officers drove the Tesla to a nearby gas station. At the gas station, field sobriety tests were conducted, including a breathalyzer, and the driver was identified as Alexander Samek of Los Altos. Samek was then booked at San Mateo county jail for suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol. Samek is a local real estate developer who is also a member of the Los Altos Planning Commission. He posted bail on the same day of his booking, but any effect of the arrest on his seat on the commission is yet to be determined.
Although it is not the first time that the CHP has arrested someone on the suspicion of DUI in a self driving vehicle, it is the first time that they have employed the strategy of utilizing the car’s automatic stopping system.
The repeat occurrence of DUI arrests of drivers who have activated the self driving mode raises the issue again of who is responsible? Is it the driver? Or the company that created the self-driving system?
It is true that being able to utilize the self driving function of these cars are a benefit in such cases where the driver may be incapable of making that drive, such as being drunk. As such, why shouldn’t we be able to use the function when we’ve had one too many glasses of wine at dinner and feel that we are protecting ourselves from being a public safety hazard? We are being responsible adults and recognizing that the self-driving function is in actuality the safer driver, who hasn’t been drinking, are we not?
Consider for a moment that the driver in this case was unconscious and woke up only after multiple attempts by the officers to wake him after the car came to a complete stop. Had there been any need for the driver to take over for the system, this driver would not have been capable of doing so. If there is no driver response, is the system still capable of making the algorithm selection that will maneuver the car safely? Probably, but possibly not for all scenarios.
The driving system is yet to be perfected and it is hard to determine if the speed of the progression of the technology would truly change the speed at which the government considers the changes that need to be made to driving laws. An article about Australia’s National Transport Commission believing that drinking or doing drugs in driverless cars should be legal was mentioned by several media outlets in late 2017, however, no major step has been taken by any of the government agencies to face this growing question. At the moment, it is still possible for a person to be arrested for a DUI when utilizing a self-driving vehicle, even though on the surface, they look to have done the safe thing and not done the driving themselves.