RCMP said officers were alerted to a speeding vehicle travelling south on Highway 2 near Ponoka at around 4 p.m. on Thursday, July 9.
“Sure enough, a short time later the Tesla goes by. The officer was sitting in the centre median and he too was like, ‘Noooo,'” RCMP Sgt. Darrin Turnbull said.
RCMP said the 2019 Tesla Model S appeared to be self-driving and travelling over 140 km/h with “both front seats completely reclined” and “both occupants appearing to be asleep.”
“He couldn’t see anybody in the vehicle.”
The officer began following the car, flashing their lights and attempting to pull over the vehicle.
“The officer was able to obtain radar readings on the vehicle, confirming that it had automatically accelerated up to exactly 150 km/h,” RCMP said.
“He gets up closer to the vehicle and hits the siren, and it’s at that point he can see the driver pop up and pull over,” Turnbull said.
“We can’t say whether he was sleeping or not, or whether he was just reclined back.”
Turnbull said it doesn’t appear the 2019 Tesla was outfitted with an autopilot feature. But he said many newer vehicle are equipped with driver-assist programs.
“Unfortunately, you can Google and find out ways to circumvent these systems. You can pay for programming and aftermarket changes to the car that will allow it to be more of an autonomous vehicle … a vehicle that is driving by itself.”
Police charged the driver, a British Columbia man, with speeding and issued a 24-hour licence suspension. After further investigation and consultation with the Crown, the driver was charged with dangerous driving.
“The decision was made that, no, this is a marked departure from the norm,” Turnbull said.
Autonomous cars are in their early stages in much of Canada, with Ontario and Quebec approving pilot projects as long as a vigilant driver is present to take control of the vehicle when needed.
There have not been any reported self-driving car crashes in Canada, but several have been reported in the U.S.
“It’s definitely a new thing, which unfortunately we might see more often,” said Turnbull.
The driver, who hasn’t been named by RCMP, is set to appear in court in December.
The town of Ponoka is located roughly 100 kilometres south of Edmonton and 200 kilometres north of Calgary.
— With files from Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press