Tesla owner banned from driving for sitting in the passenger seat
A Tesla owner in the UK has been banned from driving for 18 months because he activated the car's autopilot system and then transferred to the passenger seat while travelling on the M1.
Bhavesh Patel, aged 39, of Alfreton Road, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, April 20.
The court heard that at 7.40pm on May 21, 2017, Patel was driving his white Tesla S 60 along the northbound carriageway of the M1, between junctions 8 and 9 near Hemel Hempstead
His £70,000 autonomous car was in transit along the motorway when he made the reckless decision to switch on the super car's autopilot function and then moving across to the passenger seat and leaving the steering wheel and foot controls completely unmanned.
One witness told the court that Patel, who had owned the car for just five months at the time of the incident, sat in the passenger seat of the vehicle while the car was in transit.
Bizarrely, for other motorists, no one could be seen in the driver's seat of the Tesla car as Patel appeared to look relaxed with his hands behind his head in the passenger seat.
The witness, who was a passenger in another car, filmed Patel as the car drove past.
Witness accounts stated that traffic was heavy due to congestion and it has been estimated that the vehicle was travelling at approximately 40mph at the time.
The witness posted the footage of the incident first on social media before it was reported to police after which time, a Notice of Intended Prosecution was then sent to Patel in the post.
He was later interviewed by officers at Stevenage Police Station, where he admitted that he knew what he had done was 'silly', but that the car was capable of something 'amazing' and that he was just the 'unlucky one who got caught'.
As part of the investigation, officers obtained a statement from a Tesla engineer who described autopilot as a 'suite of driver assistance features'. The operative statement here being, ‘driver assistance’. Tesla stated that these are hands-on features intended to provide assistance to a 'fully-attentive driver'.
Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC) assists with acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle whilst Autosteer provides assistance with the steering of the vehicle.
Further literature provided by Tesla states that drivers should 'never depend on TACC to adequately slow down model S, always watch the road in front of you and be prepared to take corrective action at all times. Failure to do so can result in serious injury or death'.
The Investigating officer from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Road Policing unit, PC Kirk Caldicutt, said:
"What Patel did was grossly irresponsible and could have easily ended in tragedy. He not only endangered his own life but the lives of other innocent people using the motorway on that day.
"This case should serve as an example to all drivers who have access to autopilot controls and have thought about attempting something similar. I want to stress that they are in no way a substitute for a competent motorist in the driving seat who can react appropriately to the road ahead.
"I hope Patel uses his disqualification period to reflect on why he chose to make such a reckless decision on that day."
In addition to his 18-month disqualification, Patel was given 100 hours unpaid work, ordered to carry out 10 days rehabilitation and pay £1,800 in costs to the Crown Prosecution Service.