Speeding and sleeping? Tesla driver faces criminal charge in Alberta

CALGARY — RCMP have charged a man with dangerous driving after an officer pulled over a speeding Tesla on a central Alberta highway that appeared to be driving itself with no one inside.

Police received a complaint about a speeding car on July 9 near Ponoka, north of Red Deer.

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"Sure enough, a short time later the Tesla goes by. The officer was sitting in the centre median and he too was like, 'Noooo,'" said RCMP Sgt. Darrin Turnbull.

"He couldn't see anybody in the vehicle."

He said the car was travelling over 140 km/h and both front seats were completely reclined and two people inside appeared to be asleep.

When the officer turned on the emergency lights on the police cruiser, other vehicles on the highway pulled over but the Tesla accelerated up to 150 km/h.

"He gets up closer to the vehicle and hits the siren, and it's at that point he can see the driver pop up and pull over," Turnbull said.

"We can't say whether he was sleeping or not, or whether he was just reclined back."

Turnbull said it doesn't appear the 2019 Tesla was outfitted with an autopilot feature. But he said many newer vehicle are equipped with driver-assist programs.

"They're not completely programmed or set up yet to be driverless. They are advanced driver-assist programs that are designed as safety systems. Things like automated lane assist, collision avoidance and things like that," he said.

"Unfortunately, you can Google and find out ways to circumvent these systems. You can pay for programming and aftermarket changes to the car that will allow it to be more of an autonomous vehicle ... a vehicle that is driving by itself."

The 20-year-old driver from British Columbia was initially given a speeding ticket and a 24-hour licence suspension. After consultation with Crown prosecutors, the dangerous driving charge was added.

"The decision was made that, no, this is a marked departure from the norm," said Turnbull.

The driver is to appear in court in December.

Autonomous cars are in their early stages in much of Canada, with Ontario and Quebec approving pilot projects as long as a vigilant driver is present to take control of the vehicle when needed.

There have not been any reported self-driving car crashes in Canada, but several have been reported in the U.S.

"It's definitely a new thing, which unfortunately we might see more often," said Turnbull.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Sept. 17, 2020

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