By on May 25, 2016


The Internet is abuzz about a video which purports to show a sleeping driver being chauffeured through stop-and-go traffic by his Tesla Model S on “Autopilot” mode. All sorts of questions have been raised: Is this legal? Is it safe? Could it happen at higher speeds? What happens when you fall asleep behind the wheel of a Model S that is doing 85 mph instead of 10 mph? Who takes vertical videos? Who takes vertical videos seriously, other than the WorldStarHipHop crowd?

I’ll answer most of these questions — below the jump, of course. But the most important question that people are asking goes like so: Is this video faked?

I’ve done virtually no exhaustive research and I’m here to tell you some stuff about autonomous Tesla autopiloting:

Is this legal? Very few jurisdictions appear to have laws that require you to be awake behind the wheel. You can be cited for falling asleep and causing an accident, but the legislative framework for you to be ticketed while you’re sleeping in a moving car is still being established. Insofar as writing said legislation is at least an order of magnitude easier than tackling our failing economy, the climate crisis, and/or rampant abuse of the immigration laws in this country, expect your local Congressman to get right on the autonomous-sleeping thing.

Is it safe? In the situation depicted by the video, it appears quite safe. Nobody’s going very quickly. The Model S is perfectly fine doing the stop-and-go thing.

Is it safe/possible at higher speeds? This video shows what happens if you ignore Autopilot’s demands for your attention:

You can see the car slowing down to a stop and putting its hazards on. Given that it’s doing it in the middle of a freeway lane, that seems to me like a brilliant way to get hit in the ass by a tractor-trailer. To me, the most fascinating part of the video is when the driver presses the gas pedal and the Tesla returns to normal Autopilot operation. It suggests to me that if you can fall asleep in such a way as to keep light pressure on the pedal, you might get away with it.

Is it possible to sleep in such a way that you keep light pressure on the pedal? Maybe. If it’s possible to fall asleep at New Jersey Motorsports Park while riding shotgun with a student who didn’t need much coaching — and it is possible — then it must be possible to fall asleep with a light foot on the throttle.

Who takes vertical videos? Idiots, people with very little grasp of technology, certain disadvantaged groups of society, the desperately poor.

Who takes vertical videos seriously? See above.

Is the video genuine? I have my doubts. Most likely it’s attempting to promote the Electrek site. It’s just too much of a coincidence that a Tesla-centric site with no user base to speak of would happen to come across this precise situation at the right time.

Real or fake, however, this video raises a hugely important question about semi-autonomous vehicles: How long will we continue the fiction that the users of Autopilot and the similar systems on the way from other manufacturers are sitting there bolt-upright and fully alert, staring down the road, ready to take competent control at the drop of a hat or the chime of a bell? Who the fuck would bother with Autopilot if that’s what you had to do? The whole purpose of autonomous vehicle operation is to give the “driver” the freedom to do something else.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but once Autopilot is made available to drivers who don’t have significant assets to lose in a civil lawsuit, we’re going to see all sorts of outrageous behavior behind the wheel, from sleeping to screwing to smoking weed. The only reason we haven’t seen more of it already is the fact that Tesla’s customer base is composed of the last people in the United States who are expected to behave: namely, the upper middle class. This video may be fake, but the situation it depicts is about to become very real.

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17 Comments on “Is The “Sleeping Tesla Autopilot” Video Fake?...”

  • avatar

    how ’bout not “fake,” but “staged.”

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      That’s almost exactly how I used to drive my Dad’s Caprice Classic in stop-and-go traffic: lean the seat way back, hold the bottom of the wheel, modulate the brake pressure a little to follow the car in front. I don’t think my head was quite as slouched, but this was before celebrity DJs made that stance popular.

  • avatar

    …portrait-phobia is an anachronistic denial of the mode in which most folks access the ‘web…

  • avatar

    Hey now! If vertical videos are good enough for Donald J. Trump, they’re good enough for anyone.

  • avatar

    Yeah, I don’t know why you can’t take videos in 16 X 9 on your smartphone unless it’s sideways. Never made any sense to me.

    • 0 avatar


      The orientation of the physical image sensor in the phone decides this. In any smartphone I’ve encountered they’re oriented so that the sensor is in landscape format when held sideways. Its no different than with a digital camera.

      Also the video is taken in 16×9 landscape no matter what; its just a flag in the files metadata that causes it to render in portrait mode.

  • avatar

    “Driving without due care and attention”?

  • avatar

    A fully self driving car needs to be an all or nothing proposition. Either let me drive, or let the autopilot take over. Standing (sitting?) guard over the autopilot is not something I want to do. And if the autopilot had feelings, I doubt it would like me micro-managing it either.

    To accomplish this entails the construction of special highways — corridors for the most popular destinations — that wouldn’t allow tractor-trailers, and would have shoulders / safety lanes / rest stop parking, not only for those who fall asleep, but for those who pass out or have a heart attack, or for guys dumb enough to break up with their girlfriend on the highway (that’s what it looked like to me on a fully stopped car in the middle lane of the FDR drive).

    Best autopilot ever was Otto. :)

  • avatar

    Safe bet this was staged. On a related note, Tesla says over 100 million miles have been driven with autopilot on now. Pretty wild.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, that was really the bigger Tesla/Autopilot story out there. They actually push new inert test code to the vehicles to test it in real world environment. They also pointed out that they have significantly more miles than Googles test fleet.

      • 0 avatar

        “They also pointed out that they have significantly more miles than Googles test fleet.”

        That’s not really a fair comparison for them to make, given that the Google fleet also deals with city traffic (i.e., stop signs, turns, etc)., and not just highway travel.

        That’s sort of the reverse of Bezos and Blue Origin saying they’re doing the same thing as SpaceX when they launch a SSTO rocket, without payload, to 100miles and land it. They couldn’t be further apart in reality.

        That being said, Autopilot is probably an *awesome* testbed for sensor data, and I bet google wishes they had a sample size as large as Tesla does. It might be enough of an advantage, especially when the model 3 is on the road, for them to leapfrog google in autonomous vehicle design. We’ll see.

  • avatar

    When I commuted and wasn’t riding my bicycle, since my job was about 1/2 mile from I-75 and my house about the same distance from I-696, that’s usually how I drove home. A measurable fraction of the times I drove down I-75 I know that I fell asleep when traffic backed up at the curve where the ramp from 12 Mile Road is.

  • avatar

    Well they SAIIIIIID it was “self driving” right?

    How long till a nice porno movie is filmed with two people in the backseat of a Model P90DL doing 70MPH on the i80?

    How long till someone gets in the back of a Model X stone drunk and tells it: “take me home”?

  • avatar

    Is there where I post the obligatory

  • avatar

    Better a Tesla than an Audi that pretends it’s racing while the driver sleeps. (NSFW)

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