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.