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Autopilot horror or hoax? Video appears to show Tesla driver asleep at the wheel at 60mph

Tom Hoggins
The video appeared to capture the driver asleep at the wheel with the passenger also asleep alongside - Dakota Randall

A video posted on Twitter appears to show a driver asleep at the wheel as his auto-piloted Tesla sped across an interstate highway at 60mph.

Dakota Randall of Massachussets published the video on his Twitter account on Sunday, which shows the Tesla Model X cruising in an adjacent lane on the Interstate 90 highway. The driver looks to be fast asleep with his head between his legs, while his passenger also looks to be sleeping heavily.

It was not clear if the occupants were actually asleep or were attempting a prank. Other Tesla drivers have recorded videos of them pretending to be asleep or "disappearing" as a hoax while using AutoPilot.

"This was no hoax, at least not on my part," said Mr Randall. "Maybe the people in the car were faking being asleep, but I'm sceptical.

"I looked over and saw what I thought was somebody asleep at the wheel," he told NBC10 Boston. "I was like 'that can’t be right', so I did a double take, looked over and sure enough this guy was completely asleep. It seemed like he had his cruise control on around like 55-60 miles per hour."

Mr Randall then pulled out his phone to record a 30 second video of the sleeping occupants while the car sped along the highway, before posting the clip on social media with the message: "Some guy literally asleep at the wheel on the Mass Pike (great place for it). Teslas are sick, I guess?"

Mr Randall said that he estimated he drove adjacent to the Tesla for around 45 seconds and attempted to wake the driver by honking his horn to no avail. He then drove on with it unclear how long the Tesla driver was asleep or when he woke up.

"I'm never going to look at one the same," Mr Randall said. "I'm always going to look to see if somebody's asleep."

Boston police said that they were aware of the video on social media but were not sent it directly or received any contact about the allegedly sleeping driver.

Tesla told NBC that "many of these videos appear to be dangerous pranks or hoaxes". 

"Our driver-monitoring system repeatedly reminds drivers to remain engaged and prohibits the use of Autopilot when warnings are ignored. At highway speeds, drivers typically receive warnings every 30 seconds or less if their hands aren’t detected on the wheel," the company said.

Tesla's 'Autopilot' technology for its Model X and Model S cars uses several cameras, radar and an on-board computer to allow the car to "steer, accelerate and brake automatically within its lane". It can also make suggested lane changes and guide the car towards exits on the highway.

However, Tesla stresses that the current AutoPilot is not yet fully self-driving and requires driver interaction at all times. Drivers are instructed to keep their hands on the steering wheel while AutoPilot is engaged and periodic visual reminders are displayed on the car's dashboard.

Regardless of the veracity of the clip, the footage is likely to reignite a debate over the safety of self-driving technology. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has floated the idea that there will be fully-autonomous vehicles on the roads as early as next year.

However, in May of this year it was reported that a Tesla which had crashed into a truck, killing the driver, had autopilot turned on ten seconds before the incident with the driver taking his hands off the wheel for at least eight. In March a Tesla Model X crashed into a roadside barrier and caught fire while on Autopilot, which also resulted in the death of the driver.

In May 2016 another Tesla driver was killed when his car crashed into a lorry crossing its path. An inquest said that Autopilot was engaged for 37 minutes, but the driver only had his hands on the wheel for 25 seconds.

Tesla claim that despite these incidents, which directly contradict its own guidelines for using the technology, drivers using Autopilot are safer than those who do not.

"Tesla owners have driven billions of miles using Autopilot," the company said. "Data from our quarterly Vehicle Safety Report indicates that drivers using Autopilot experience fewer accidents than those operating without assistance."