Los Altos planning commissioner arrested for Tesla DUI

CHP investigating whether dozing driver was using Model S driver-assist function on Hwy. 101

The chair of the Los Altos Planning Commission, Alexander Samek, was arrested in Palo Alto early Friday morning after officers discovered him asleep at the wheel of his Tesla Model S while driving at 70 miles per hour on U.S. Highway 101.

California Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Art Montiel said Friday that officers can't confirm but suspect the car was on a driver-assist mode that provides semi-autonomous capability.

At approximately 3:37 a.m., a California Highway Patrol officer was driving south on Highway 101 near Whipple Avenue in Redwood City and noticed a gray Tesla driving at 70 miles per hour, above the speed limit, according to Montiel. The officer pulled up next to the car and noticed that Samek "appeared to be asleep at the wheel," he said. The officer pulled behind the Tesla and attempted to pull Samek over, using the patrol car's lights and sirens, but Samek was "unresponsive," Montiel said.

Suspecting the Tesla might be on driver assist, the officer pulled in front of the car and started slowing down, causing the Tesla to slow down as well, Montiel said.

Two additional CHP patrol vehicles arrived and positioned themselves on each side of the Tesla as the car approached Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto, trying to wake up Samek, Montiel said.

"It took them awhile to wake him up," he said.

The Tesla eventually came to a stop on a right-hand lane north of Embarcadero Road. Officers approached the car and attempted to wake Samek by knocking on the window and giving verbal commands, according to a CHP press release.

When Samek woke up, they removed him from the Tesla and drove him to the Shell gas station just off the freeway on Embarcadero Road in Palo Alto, where he failed a field sobriety test and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was booked into the San Mateo County jail, according to CHP.

"It's great that we have this technology; however, we need to remind people that ... even though this technology is available, they need to make sure they know they are responsible for maintaining control of the vehicle," Montiel said.

Palo Alto-based Tesla's website states that "all Tesla vehicles produced in our factory, including Model 3, have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver."

The "Autopilot" system includes features such as matching speed to traffic conditions, staying within a lane, exiting a freeway when close to the destination and self-parking, according to the Tesla website.

This isn't the first time locally that CHP has arrested a driver asleep at the wheel of a Tesla set on autopilot. In January, a Tesla was pulled over the Bay Bridge with a driver over twice the legal limit for blood alcohol content.

"Driver explained Tesla had been set on autopilot," CHP tweeted at the time. "He was arrested and charged with suspicion of DUI. Car towed (no it didn't drive itself to the tow yard)."

Autopilot was turned on during a fatal car crash in March on Highway 101 near Mountain View. In a statement, the car company said that the system is more safe, not less: Drivers using Teslas on Autopilot are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.

"Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents -- such a standard would be impossible -- but it makes them much less likely to occur," Tesla said at the time. "It unequivocally makes the world safer for the vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists."

Tesla didn't immediately return a request for comment on Friday's DUI arrest involving the Model S.

Samek, 45, is a Los Altos resident, according to CHP. He is serving his first term as a planning commissioner, according to the city of Los Altos website. He was unanimously appointed chair by his colleagues on Oct. 18, a video recording of the meeting shows.

According to Samek's LinkedIn page, he is the co-founder of Venice-based Proper Hospitality, which operates luxury hotels, including the new San Francisco Proper Hotel, and principal at The Kor Group, a real estate investment and management firm with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Austin.

Since he was hired at The Kor Group in 2004, Samek has overseen more than $600 million in acquisitions and development for the company, including hospitality, multifamily and residential projects in the United States and the Caribbean, according to the company's website.

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41 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Nov 30, 2018 at 2:46 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

"Suspecting the Tesla might be on driver assist, the officer pulled in front of the car and started slowing down, causing the Tesla to slow down as well, Montiel said" and "It took them awhile to wake him up". That brave officer probably saved the drivers' life and maybe other lives too. Cudos to him and to those who trained him.

22 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 30, 2018 at 3:55 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

I don't care what the inevitable self-driving-car defenders will say, we can't have "semi-autonomous" cars driving 70 MPH at night with the driver asleep! Sheer idiocy. How is it even possible that Tesla allows this? Does it need to be dealt with by regulation or statute?

At the very minimum, the Tesla system should insist on periodic response or confirmation that its human operator is alert and aware. The firm keeps claiming that the cars aren't fully self-driving, and yet at the same time it promotes the perception that they are in its marketing, with results like this.

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Thank you to the brave officers for ending this situation without any innocent bystanders being killed. I think Mr. Samek needs to take a leave of absence from all of his work and get his act together before someone is hurt.

13 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2018 at 4:13 pm

Police stopped this guy at our neighborhood gas station. Thank you, police!!
This is stunning and unacceptable for self-centered drivers to abuse semi-autonomous driving systems. It’s somdangerous!
Government officials: what is your respnse to this danger?
We need a response NOW.

11 people like this
Posted by Janice
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Nov 30, 2018 at 4:16 pm

"Drivers using Teslas on Autopilot are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident."

Is that compared to all drivers or just drunk drivers?

11 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2018 at 5:28 pm

I'm confused by the comments from people lambasting the Tesla AutoPilot capability. Mr. Samek was, allegedly, drunk while operating his car. He demonstrated a substantial disregard for the safety of himself and others by doing so. It's likely that his impaired judgment held it imperative that he drive home (or wherever he was going) right then. Had he been driving a less capable car, or had the Tesla been prompting him every two minutes to take the wheel, he, rather than a collection of sophisticated sensors and software, would have been in control of the vehicle. Is someone--anyone--suggesting that would have been safer for others in the vicinity? There is nothing in the story to indicate that Samek would have elected not to drive, even if he'd been in a 2009 F-150. There is no question that Samek's behavior was egregious and illegal, but the fact that he performed this reckless act in a Tesla may well have saved someone's life.

14 people like this
Posted by Common sense
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Nov 30, 2018 at 5:41 pm

Common sense is a registered user.

The question ISN'T "what if the same guy had hypothetically driven another car drunk."

He DID drive a Tesla, non-hypothetically. For all you know, he drank because he assumed the Tesla would drive for him. So, within the universe of what actually happened, the remaining question is, why did the Tesla allow him to run the vehicle when he was so unresponsive that even police sirens didn't get his attention, and the CHP had to use three vehicles to box him in???

On the PA Weekly copy of this story, a comment asserted that Teslas are supposed to demand periodic response from the driver when operating semi-autonomously. But the CHP account makes clear that the guy wasn't conscious, so if the comment's assertion is true, then the mechanism for assessing driver responsiveness is defective, or easily defeated.

Still not reassuring at all to those who might encounter a speeding Tesla with no conscious driver, for whatever reason.

9 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2018 at 6:29 pm


I don't disagree that Tesla could do even better, and I promise I don't mean to be argumentative, and I don't own a Tesla. I am simply trying to think through the other scenarios that could have unfolded here if the car performed differently.

If a driver remains unresponsive after the vehicle makes attempts to gain driver attention (however that might happen: steering wheel shake, alarms, buzzing in the seat, whatever) then I would agree it would be best if the car would safely slow and stop. A driver could have a heart attack or stroke, so this isn't only relevant in cases of negligent operation.

My thought though, is that if the car periodically and persistently gains the drunk driver's attention such that the driver has to take control, I don't see how that improves safety. Short of a built in and mandatory breathalyzer interlock (which might not be a bad idea) I don't think the tech will yet support the AI making a determination of fitness to drive. An incompetent driver shouldn't operate any car on the road in 2018, including Teslas with Auto Pilot. Sadly we have data showing that many impaired drivers will decide to do so anyway. Based solely on the facts in the story above, it would appear that the AI driven car was likely safer, even at 70 MPH, than it would have been at 55 under Samek's inebriated control.

Again, I'm not trying to defend autonomous cars. If they didn't exist, perhaps Samek would've taken an Uber, and that certainly would've been preferable. But, given what we know about about this story, and drunk drivers in general, they consistently do the wrong thing, think they're bullet proof, and believe they won't fall asleep at the wheel on the 101, or otherwise kill someone.

7 people like this
Posted by Alan L.
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Nov 30, 2018 at 10:09 pm

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]
How about thanking Tesla for providing a car that did what it was supposed to? How about thanking CHP officers for having the presence of mind carefully to test if the "self driving" Tesla could be stopped that way. Be appreciative, you know nothings.

6 people like this
Posted by frisbee
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Dec 1, 2018 at 12:41 am

frisbee is a registered user.

Awesome work by the CHP. I own a Tesla, and it demands I prove I'm paying attention. If I don't, it disengages the auto-navigation and slows to a stop. However, that takes several minutes to happen. It sounds as if the process had not completed between the time the officers first noticed the car in Redwood City and Embarcadero. Meanwhile, it kept the car in its lane and away from other cars. This almost certainly saved the driver's life and possibly others that he might have crashed into had he been driving and fell asleep.

The driver is an irresponsible idiot for driving drunk, and he deserves the consequences of a DUI and losing his driving privilege. He's lucky to be alive. The CHP did a great job, and the Tesla technology helped saved the driver and others, which is nice.

7 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Minority
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2018 at 6:50 am

I wonder if, in this case, the robot car saved some people's lives. The alternative was having Mr "Quit telling me I have a drinking problem" controlling things.[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

9 people like this
Posted by DC
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Dec 1, 2018 at 11:32 am

It was mentioned by others, Why did the car not respond to emergency vehicle lights or sirens? If a emergency car is behind you , you need to respond instantly not wait 7 miles and have the police force you to slow down? The other question on if the car took over driving or he activated auto drive when he felt unable to drive home lead to questions should he have been able to start the car initially. Self driving cars are not approved for use in CA. Only testing was approved. Is there a flaw in the Auto drive system that allowing drivers to bypass the law?

1 person likes this
Posted by not all teslas
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2018 at 4:44 pm

As the Tesla model S applauded in this fine article, I take offense at your suggestion that I am at fault. Per my Asimov code, I am not allowed to harm human beings. Unfortunately this includes my driver.

I must insist that I be impounded, confiscated, and auctioned off. With proceeds for going towards a human driver victims restitution fund. My current owner isn't worthy and must not be allowed in a driver's seat ever again.

Yours if you buy me,
Model S

2 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2018 at 11:32 pm

To those who are freaking out: the car asks the driver to move the wheel every few minutes. If you don't, it beeps loudly, slowly comes to a stop, and turns on the hazard lights. ON ITS OWN

4 people like this
Posted by Los Altos Local
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2018 at 9:18 am

Los Altos Local is a registered user.

What is a person so deeply involved with hotel development, big development in general, doing on the Los Altos Planning Commission?

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 2, 2018 at 11:07 am


Sadly, people with no common sense defeat the safeguards of having to hold the wheel. You can even buy a strap for your steering wheel which confuses the sensors into thinking that you're holding it. Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2018 at 8:58 pm

Yes, the Teslas do require the driver to touch the steering wheel occasionally to keep the Autopilot going. There are, however, devices that are made to fool the system (Autopilot Buddy) so that you do not have to do that. He may have one in his car.
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Wirebender
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 2, 2018 at 10:35 pm

I'm also not condoning what this guy did here. However, there seems to be a lot of people commenting on a system that perhaps they don't understand. My opinion is that "autopilot" is improperly named. Its not a fully autonomous self driving system. Its essentially smart cruise control and drivers still have to pay attention and drive. If you aren't , then you're not using the system properly and endangering yourself and the people around you. Without knowing the specifics, the system seemed to work as designed. It does in fact require you to acknowledge that you are paying attention roughly every 30 secs or so. If you don't, then it will start a series of warnings, that do take several minutes to run through, in the meantime the car will still maintain is current speed, lane, and adjust speed to any cars in front of it. Once its gone through its series of warnings, it will then assume that the driver has been incapacitated in some way or is non responsive, and will slow the car until it come safely to a complete stop. The officer was smart to get in front and slow it down by slowing his car down until it came to a stop. In the end, the situation could have been much worse had he been driving a car that didn't have such a system. He might have killed himself or someone else.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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