An investigation by the Deseret News has found that research on self driving cars is underway on I-80 between Salt Lake City and Wendover. Research assistants say the experiments involve drivers taking naps while the behind the wheel.

While the Tesla Model S is commercially available, it isn’t designed for drivers to fall asleep. The technology currently available for the Model S, called L2, offers what the company calls semi-autonomous capabilities, meaning the vehicle can take over the wheel, and automatically, follow shifting lanes and even apply the gas and brakes as needed.

Since 2017, researchers at the U. had been documenting incidences where their research participants had been nodding off at the wheel of multiple L2 cars. These vehicles were being “driven” by participants who were given limited instruction in their use and were told that as part of the study they would have to just monitor the cars while they drove long, desolate stretches of I-80 west of Salt Lake City and back.

Two research associates, Jess Esplin and Elise Tanner, complained to the Institutional Review Board, the board at the U. tasked with oversight of research studies on campus to make sure they are done safely and ethically. Esplin and Tanner complained about the lack of safety protocols for test drives and vetting of participants — one participant was allowed to get behind the wheel after acknowledging that he had slept less than five hours and had as many as seven alcoholic drinks before going to bed, according to an internal audit.

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