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The interior of a Tesla Model S is shown in autopilot mode in San Francisco, California, U.S., April 7, 2016. REUTERS/Alexandria Sage/File PhotoAlexandria Sage/Reuters

Social media howled at the latest instalment of Autopilot outrage. It showed the driver of a Tesla, in what appeared to be a state of deep slumber, motoring along the Queen Elizabeth Way in southern Ontario while the vehicle used Autopilot to navigate. Of course, this is a misuse of the technology: according to Tesla’s information, “Current Autopilot features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.”

The video was filmed and posted on Instagram by Louise Lesser, who was a passenger in a nearby vehicle. She told Global News Rip Van Tesla had his eyes shut for between 10 and 15 minutes. “His eyes were closed. He opened them for a split second when the sun hit the wrong way, and then they stayed closed the rest of the time we saw him …. I couldn’t believe it.”

The requisite experts were called in from law enforcement and academia to remind the planet that sleeping while driving, even in a Tesla, is illegal and should not be attempted under any circumstances.

Lesser’s clip was the latest in the “Tesla Sleeping Beauties” series. In August, a driver in San Diego was filmed snoozing. In 2021, a 21-year-old sleeping Tesla driver was fined $368 and given six demerit points for “Driving without Due Care.” In 2020, a slumbering driver in Alberta was clocked going 150 kilometres an hour while asleep in a Tesla.

You know what there aren’t a lot of?

Fifteen-minute videos of drivers sleeping in vehicles that don’t have Autopilot. Those videos are usually short and end with fiery crashes. Drowsy driving is extremely dangerous. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S., in 2017 “91,000 police-reported crashes involved drowsy drivers. These crashes led to an estimated 50,000 people injured and nearly 800 deaths.”

You know what there are a lot of?

Videos of wide-awake drivers speeding, crashing, driving while impaired, engaging in road rage, driving drunk and smashing into 11 parked cars. There are so many videos of dangerous fully conscious drivers there are compilations.

What’s more alarming? That a driver fell asleep in a Tesla, and it didn’t crash or that every day of every year wide-awake drivers are colliding and killing each other, cyclists and pedestrians at an alarming rate?

This is not to absolve those who abuse autopilot.

Let’s break down the Rip Van Tesla logic:

  1. Spend a lot of money to purchase a Tesla because it’s electric and has hyped-up autopilot features such assisted driving Autosteer and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control.
  2. Be warned time and again to “keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times” and to always “maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle.”
  3. See the visual reminder saying “keep your hands on the wheel” that pops up each time Autopilot is engaged.
  4. Decide to ignore all these warnings so you can sleep while driving.

Videos of drivers sleeping in Teslas alarm us because they show what was once thought impossible (sleeping while driving) becoming the not only possible, but conceivably one day common. Let’s save our outrage for the motorists who routinely ignore the law and basic human decency to engage in reckless, dangerous driving. Maybe cars should come with a warning?

After all, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which advises Parliament on substance abuse, recently released a report that advocates “mandatory labelling of alcoholic beverages that would indicate portion sizes for safe consumption.” To be at “low risk,” according to the CCSA, imbibers should have no more than two drinks per week. Six or more drinks a week makes you “high risk.”

Using this logic, why not slap warning stickers on automobiles?

What’s more dangerous? Driving or six glasses of San Filippo dei Comunali 2017 Brunello di Montalcino a week (hey, a guy can dream)? The automobile is arguably the No. 1 cause of violent death. Brunello, not so much. It’s the No. 1 cause of me ordering pici al fumo. Look, I’ve done some research and we at The Road Sage Centre for Life Issues and Hyperbole found that 100 per cent of human beings will die as a result of being dead. When it comes to the journey down that road from which none of us return, it is not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when” and “how.” There’s death and then there’s senseless death. Every single automobile death is senseless.

Rip Van Tesla videos prove that, when it comes to driving, this senseless carnage is almost always caused by human failings. The problem isn’t autopilot or any other kind of flashy technology, it’s the people using it. It’s time for Rip Van Tesla and the rest of the world’s bad drivers to wake up and take responsibility.

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