Los Altos planning commissioner arrested for DUI may have had Tesla's Autopilot engaged

ByChris Nguyen via KGO logo
Saturday, December 1, 2018
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A local planning commissioner was arrested Friday morning after the CHP says they found him asleep at the wheel of his Tesla.

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- A local planning commissioner was arrested Friday morning after the CHP says they found him asleep at the wheel of his Tesla, while he was driving south on Highway 101 in Redwood City.

Investigators believe the vehicle's driver assistance system (commonly referred to as autopilot) was also in use.

The CHP spotted the gray Tesla Model S going nearly 70 miles per hour on the highway around 3:40 a.m. When the patrol car pulled up, the officer said the driver was slumped over and appeared to be asleep. Another officer eventually went in front of the vehicle and slowed it down to a stop just north of the Embarcadero Road exit.

"Officers went up to the driver's side and tried to wake up the driver. It took a while to wake him up. They got him out of the vehicle (and) put him in the patrol car," said Officer Art Montiel, a CHP spokesperson.

A patrol officer then drove the Tesla off the highway to a Shell gas station in Palo Alto. The driver, Alexander Samek of Los Altos, underwent a sobriety test, including a breathalyzer. He was then arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Mugshot of Alexander Samek from the San Mateo County Sheriff.

Legal analyst Steven Clark said the 45-year-old driver could face an uphill battle in court.

"This may be a false sense of security for many people that think it's okay to get behind the wheel as long as they have self-driving mode," Clark said. "I think this is an important lesson that this will not be tolerated by the courts."

Samek's LinkedIn profile states he is a real estate developer. He also serves on the Los Altos planning commission.

Tesla owners who spoke with ABC7 sister station KGO-TV said they were glad no one was hurt during the ordeal.

"It's reckless," San Jose resident Matthew Paul said. "I mean, it clearly states on the warning that when you're on autopilot, you should have both hands on the steering wheel. It's just an enhancement to your driving."

Samek has been released from the San Mateo County jail and will likely appear in court in January, according to the district attorney's office.

"What the law seeks to do is prohibit people from getting behind the wheel that are intoxicated, and I don't see this legal loophole working in court, by saying this person wasn't driving, it was in self-driving mode," Clark said.