Video shows man sitting in passenger seat of Tesla while car is set to autopilot

Tesla driver caught turning on autopilot and leaving driver’s seat on motorway

Culprit admits he knew what he had done was ‘silly’ but that the car was capable of something ‘amazing’

Adam Harnett
Saturday 28 April 2018 19:56

A man who switched on his Tesla’s autopilot and sat in the passenger seat while travelling along a busy motorway has been banned from driving for 18 months.

Bhavesh Patel, 39, was driving his Tesla S 60 on the M1 at 7.40pm on 21 May last year when he switched on the supercar’s autopilot function.

He then moved across to the passenger seat, leaving the steering wheel and foot controls completely unmanned.

A witness noticed Patel, who had owned the car for a maximum of five months at the time of the incident, and filmed the reckless behaviour.

No one could be seen in the driver’s seat and Patel appeared to have his hands behind his head.

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 the vehicle was estimated to be travelling at around 40mph at the time.

Footage of the incident was first posted on social media before being reported to police and a Notice of Intended Prosecution was then sent to Patel in the post.

He was later interviewed by officers at Stevenage Police Station.

He admitted that he knew what he had done was “silly” but the car was capable of something “amazing” and that he was just the “unlucky one who got caught”.

In a statement to police, a Tesla engineer described autopilot as a “suite of driver assistance features”.

They stated that the feature was 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 steering of the vehicle.

Tesla said 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”.

Patel, of Alfreton Road, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court on Friday 20 April.

Investigating officer PC Kirk Caldicutt, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire 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.”

As well as 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.