In May of 2017, British “driver” Bhavesh Patel climbed behind the wheel of his white Tesla S 60 and headed off down the crowded M1 highway at about 40mph. Itching to relax, Patel switched on the autopilot function and swapped to the passenger seat for maximum comfort. After kicking up his feet and putting his hands behind his head, he left both the steering wheel and the foot controls entirely neglected.
Unfortunately for Patel, his seat switch was caught on film by a fellow driver who passed him on the highway. You can check out that video here:
(Note that this took place in England, so the right-hand side is the driver side.)
BBC News has reported that, after an investigation by the court, Patel pleaded guilty to dangerous driving. He’s been banned from the M1 for eighteen months and is required to perform 100 hours of unpaid work as punishment, pay the Crown Prosecution Services a fine of £1,800 (roughly $2500), and undertake 10 days of rehabilitation.
While Tesla provides its cars with an autopilot function, it’s not infallible. A Tesla engineer who testified in the court case reiterated that autopilot is intended to assist a “fully attentive driver”, not replace the driver entirely. There still needs to be someone behind the wheel ready to make corrections in the event of an emergency.
Maybe the most worrying thing is Patel’s attitude toward the whole thing. While he acknowledged that what he did was “silly”, he also noted that he was just the “unlucky one who got caught”. Which implies that this is definitely a thing that he’s seen his fellow Tesla drivers doing.
Footage of the stunt was circulated on social media before someone thought to report it to the police. Thankfully, the court took swift action. In light of the recent injuries, crashes, and deaths at the hands of autonomous vehicles, it’s good to know that we’re seeing these dangerous drivers being punished for unnecessarily dangerous actions.