Tesla’s Autopilot driver assist features can make driving safer as long as the driver stay attentive and is ready to take control, but you need a driver in order to do that.
A Tesla owner in the UK was caught on video leaving the driver’s seat and getting into the passenger seat while on Autopilot. He received an 18-month license suspension for what has been deemed “dangerous driving.”
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According to a Telegraph report, Bhavesh Patel, aged 39, of Alfreton Road, Nottingham, was caught on video in the passenger seat of his Tesla (pictured above – keep in mind the UK is a right-hand drive market) with his hands behind his head while the vehicle was in motion on the M1, between junctions 8 and 9 near Hemel Hempstead.
The incident happened on May 21, 2017 and after images of it were shared on social media, the police got a hold of them and decided to arrest Patel, who pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, April 20.
Investigating officer PC Kirk Caldicutt from the Road Policing Unit, 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.”
Patel received an 18-month “disqualification period” for his driving license. On top of it, 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.
The UK doesn’t mess around with “dangerous driving” and that’s probably a good thing. It serves as a good reminder that drivers on Autopilot are still responsible for the vehicle and should always pay attention and be ready to take control.
What Patel did was way more irresponsible than the many incidents of drivers not paying attention on Autopilot that we have heard of over the years, but I would consider not paying attention on Autopilot, even on the driver’s seat, as dangerous driving under the current status of Autopilot.
I’m also particularly interested as to how he managed to keep Autopilot engaged while he was in the passenger’s seat.
He could have easily got over the “hands on the steering wheel” alerts by simply touching the wheel every once in a while, but I was under the impression that Autopilot would disengage if the driver removes his seatbelt or the vehicle’s sensors doesn’t detect anyone in the driver’s seat.
I’m sure there are ways to get around this, but let’s not test them. Please.