Tesla drivers are falling asleep at the wheel while their cars are on autopilot.
A recent spate of incidents have caught several drivers in California taking a nap while driving on major roads. While the videos are alarming, people have been falling asleep while driving, well before autopilot arrived.
Autopilot and other driver assist features from automakers like Volvo require the driver to have their hands on the steering wheel at all times, however.
It seems the sleepy Tesla owners are getting around this by using a ‘Autopilot nag’ or a device that tricks the system into thinking there is pressure on the car's wheel.
Couldn’t believe it.. asleep in heavy Friday rush hour traffic in the Bay Area. from r/IdiotsInCars
Tricking the system
The device tricks the system by making it think there is someone present in the car. If the device moves or if a driver does take their hands off the wheel, warning sounds would be heard and if there was no response, a Tesla is programmed to slow down in speed and eventually, stop.
One product marketed as an ‘Autopilot Buddy’ mimicked the weight of a driver's hand. It was created to fit perfectly onto a Tesla wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) has attempted to crack down on these products.
In a statement on their website, the NHTSA made it clear how potentially dangerous the devices are:
“The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a cease and desist letter to the company selling a product called the Autopilot Buddy. Marketed as a ‘Tesla autopilot nag reduction device,’ its primary function is to disable a safety feature in Tesla vehicles that monitors the driver’s hands on the steering wheel and warns the driver when hands are not detected. Aftermarket devices, such as Autopilot Buddy, are motor vehicle equipment regulated by NHTSA."
“A product intended to circumvent motor vehicle safety and driver attentiveness is unacceptable,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King.
“By preventing the safety system from warning the driver to return their hands to the wheel, this product disables an important safeguard, and could put customers and other road users at risk.”
According to Elektrek, the product was still on sale, under a different name.
Autopilot under attack
Tesla’s Autopilot system has been heavily criticized for its apparent role in several terrible accidents. However, there is no evidence to suggest there are more crashes because of the use of the system.
In one incident, a Florida-based Tesla driver has announced his intention to sue the company claiming the autopilot feature failed in his Model S causing him to slam into a car on the Florida Turnpike.
Law firm, Morgan & Morgan announced in May that they will sue the electric car company on behalf of their client.
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According to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orange County, the Model S slammed into a stalled car after the autopilot feature failed, causing him severe injuries including a broken neck. Shawn Hudson of Winter Garden was eager to buy a Tesla because of the car's autopilot ability.