Police Looking For Driver Who Let His Car Run On ‘Autopilot’

A stupid and dangerous stunt which is also illegal

Image source: TashiMediaMY

In future, it will be possible to travel in a car without having to steer or control it. The technology already exists for what are known as autonomous vehicles. At this time, there are just a few production cars from companies like Tesla and Mercedes-Benz which have autonomous capability where the car is fully controlled by computer as it moves along the highway.

But while some countries allow such vehicles to operate – and only in specific public highways – regulations in Malaysia do not permit a vehicle to be driven without driver control. The present laws require the driver to be in control at all times.

So it is obviously a very serious offence when a driver decided to go to sleep and let his car drive on ‘autopilot’ on a Malaysian road This came to the attention of the police after a local DJ, Gatita Yan, uploaded a post on her Instagram page which showed her boyfriend, Tay Wee Shen, seemingly asleep with his hands off the steering wheel. Another picture also showed his feet not on the pedals, suggesting that the car (a BMW) was running with its cruise control in operation.

Driver’s feet not on pedals (Image source: TashiMediaMY)

According to Sin Chew Daily, the police are now looking for Tay and will issue a summons to him for an offence. According to Perak police chief Datuk Mohd Yusri Hassan Basri, the police are uncertain of the location of the couple (who were believed to be headed to Ipoh on Tuesday). He added that, as the driver, Tay’s act of being asleep in the moving car was dangerous and illegal.

The Instagram post has been removed but some people took screenshots so it’s too late to hide the ‘evidence’. Some think that it was done as a ‘stunt’ to attract views and Tay may only have pretended to be asleep.

Many cars (even some models from Perodua) are up to Level 2 in driving automation. BMW will offer Level 3 self-driving capability as an option with the iX and 7-Series within one or two years.

While we do not know of any BMW sold in Malaysia which has fully autonomous capability, many BMW models do have a number of features which enable semi-autonomous operation. But all the features still require the driver to be awake and paying attention to the car’s movements.

Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) allows the car to cruise at a set speed and should there be a vehicle ahead, its speed will be adjusted automatically to maintain a safe distance. This is done using radar and/or camera imagery which scans ahead and the situation is analysed by a computer.

ACC is a more advanced cruise control, unlike normal cruise control where the car will travel at the set speed and even if there is another vehicle ahead, it will not change its speed – which becomes a very dangerous situation. Therefore, the driver must be alert and either brake or switch off the cruise control if there is a risk of a collision.

However, cruise control only keeps the car running without the driver having to press on the accelerator. If the road is straight, then the car will remain in its lane. But even long highways are not perfectly straight for long distances as there will be curves along the way. Some may be gentle while others may be sharp. If the car is left on ACC, it is likely to depart from its lane and possibly crash into something.

BMWs and many other cars today have a driver-assistance systems known as Lane Departure Warning and Lane Keep Assist. The camera monitors road markings and the computer keeps the car within its lane. Should it start to move away from the centre of the lane, there will be an alert so the driver is aware.

Lane Departure Warning systems were developed to prevent accidents in case a driver became drowsy or fell asleep. As a further advancement, Lane Keeping was also developed which will come into operation if the driver does not act correctly to bring the car back into its lane. The computer will gently steer the car back to its lane when necessary.

It is possible that Tay’s car also had a Lane Keeping function so he could have used it to keep the car within its lane while he was ‘asleep’. However, it is probably risky to rely on this function at very high speeds so he might not have been travelling very fast – just for the picture to get attention.

Regardless of the motives of the couple, it is clear that the action was dangerous as well as illegal. The driver-assistance systems are there not for ‘fun’ and are intended to help the driver be aware of a risky situation and to avoid an accident.

If you want to sleep, then pull over at a R&R or lay-by for a while. Don’t risk your life and those who are with you in the car.