Autonomous Driving Technology Might Have Saved Lives

It could have been a multiple-vehicle fatal car crash—a driver fell asleep at the wheel driving 70 mph—but the outcome was two DUI charges.

2 minute read

January 9, 2019, 11:00 AM PST

By Irvin Dawid

Self-Driving Car

RioPatuca / Shutterstock

Two driver fatalities associated with the use of Tesla's Autopilot advanced driver assistance system gathered much media attention:

Tesla likes to cite a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finding that Autopilot has reduced crash rates by 40 percent, though according to Wired's transportation reporter, Aarian Marshall, "NHTSA indicated that Tesla has been misconstruing the key statistic it uses to defend its technology."

However, it appears that member of the Los Altos, Calif. planning commission has to credit Autopilot and sharp-thinking California Highway Patrol officers for not crashing on Highway 101 on the San Francisco Peninsula just over a month ago. Bay City News reporter, Supriya Yelimeli, explains.

California Highway Patrol officers tried to stop Alexander Samek's Tesla Model S traveling at 70 mph on southbound Highway 101 at Whipple Avenue [Redwood City] to conduct a DUI check shortly before 4 a.m. on Nov. 30. 

They noticed Samek was asleep at the wheel and drove in front of the car at a close distance to activate the vehicle’s automatic stopping system.

The Tesla came to a complete stop at 4:04 a.m. on southbound Highway 101 north of Embarcadero Road [Palo Alto] after tailing the CHP vehicle for about 7 miles.

"CHP public information officer Art Montiel told the LA Times that “there was no training for the situation the officers encountered and attributed the outcome to their ‘quick thinking," wrote Dami Lee for The Verge on Dec. 3.

On Jan. 2, Samek, 45, a Los Altos planning commissioner, pleaded not guilty to "two misdemeanors, DUI and DUI with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent or higher," reports Bay City's Yelimeli.

John Woolfolk reported Dec. 3 for The Mercury News on the "lively social media debate over technology-assisted driving" sparked by the incident, and notes that the CHP arrested a Tesla driver for DUI on Jan. 19 on the Bay Bridge. However, in that case, the Tesla had already stopped, and the driver was found sleeping.

Woolfolk reminds his readers that "Autopilot technology is rated Level 2 by the Society of Automotive Engineers [now SAE International] on a scale in which 5 is a fully autonomous self-driving car without a human driver."

Depiction of the SAE levels of automation ranging from 0 to 5. Read more in the next section about these levels.

Credit: NHTSA –Automated Vehicles for Safety

 Zachary Shahan reports on Jan. 5 for Clean Technica that "Tesla Autopilot miles have been soaring as the company has scored insane sales growth in recent quarters." All Tesla models are equipped with the advanced driver assistance technology.

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