EDMONTON -- RCMP have charged a B.C. man after pulling over a speeding Tesla on an Alberta highway earlier this year, alleging he was asleep behind the wheel in a fully reclined driver's seat.

A 20-year-old B.C. man was charged with speeding and given a 24-hour licence suspension for fatigue.

He was also charged in August with dangerous driving under the Criminal Code of Canada, after RCMP consulted with Crown Counsel.

Police were called when the Tesla was spotted on Highway 2 near Ponoka, south of Edmonton, on July 9.

A QEII commuter reported seeing both the driver’s and a passenger’s seat fully reclined while the vehicle was travelling over 140 km/h.

According to Sgt. Darrin Turnbull, the responding officer was “shocked” to see the same thing when the Tesla passed by. Police say when the Mountie turned on their lights, the Tesla accelerated to 150 km/h.

Eventually, the Tesla driver pulled over.

Turnbull – who works in the traffic services department and who has himself patrolled parts of the 300-kilometre stretch of divided highway between Edmonton and Calgary – called it a “first.”

He said the driver wouldn’t have received the criminal charge if he hadn’t been using the Tesla’s auto-pilot function in that fashion.

“He’s in the driver seat, responsible for that motor vehicle," Turnbull said.

“Ultimately, he’s in care and control of that motor vehicle to make sure whatever he’s allowing it to do is not dangerous.”

The B.C. man is due in court in December.


Autonomous driving features are allowed in Canada, but only in conjunction with the safeties built in by a car's manufacturer.

“Depending on the model, depending on the year, depending on the program and the updates that are into the car, the car must feel some kind of input from the driver every X number of seconds,” Turnbull said.

However, he said there are off-market programs that allow drivers to override the car’s system and manual tricks that mimic the sensation of a driver's hand on the wheel. 

While technically impressive, Turnball said, autonomous systems like Tesla’s don't match human judgement.

A human driver, he said, might pull into the far lane of a divided highway if they saw an adult and child on the side of the road changing a tire.

“A human being sees and recognizes that hazard. The system is not at that point yet.”

He urged drivers to respect the measures that have been put in place to protect all road users.

“All these safeguards are… meant to keep us safe. They come with the responsibility of driving.”

According to the province's transportation ministry, Alberta has no plans to introduce legislation specific to automated vehicles on highways but has a hand in the development of federal guidelines. 

Alberta Transportation has also issued permits to "a number" of automated vehicle projects, most of which are low-speed shuttles in highly controlled areas, a government spokesperson said. 

All vehicles on Alberta roads, including autonomous vehicles, must have a licensed driver in control of the vehicle.