We’d like to say that a driver in England has taken Tesla Autopilot hands-off irresponsibility to a whole new level — by activating the driver-assist feature on a busy roadway, then moving to the passenger seat and leaving the wheel and pedals unattended. We’d like to say that, except in a search of YouTube for video of this incident, we discovered a long, alarming list of people who have done the same thing, some going even so far as to crawl into the backseat.
In the case before us now out of England, the reckless driver has had his license suspended for 18 months. Bhavesh Patel, 39, of Nottingham, England, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving in St Albans Crown Court on April 20. In addition to the driving ban, he will do 100 hours of community service and pay a fine.
Patel also offered a glimpse into the mind of a Tesla fanboy with his explanation for what he did.
On the summer evening of May 21, 2017, Patel was driving his white Tesla Model S northbound on the M1 motorway near Hemel Hempstead, northwest of London, when he decided to turn on the Autopilot function then abandon the controls altogether. Someone in another car noticed and shot a snippet of video, which you can see above. (Remember, it’s England, so right-hand drive. He’s sitting in the left seat, though he’s hard to make out because police have blurred his face. But you can definitely tell that the driver’s seat is empty.)
The witness said Patel appeared to have his hands behind his head.
Traffic was heavy, and the estimated speed was 40 mph.
The video went up on social media, which allowed police to track Patel down. Police said he told them that he knew what he did was “silly” — not dangerous, not risking the lives of everyone around him, but “silly.” But he said the car was capable of doing something “amazing” and that he was just the “unlucky one who got caught.”
The only “amazing” thing is that nobody got hurt. But to Patel’s latter point, at least, the collection of videos on YouTube — which were posted by the Tesla owners themselves — proves he’s right.
Tesla told police what it has stated in case after case of crashes involving Autopilot: Its suite of driver-assistance features were meant to be used hands-on, and only to complement a “fully attentive driver.”
Tesla literature states that a driver should “never depend on TACC [traffic-aware cruise control] 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.”
Tesla owners, do you get it? Clearly some of you don’t. This shouldn’t need to be said, but Autopilot, or any driver-assistance technology on the market today, requires vigilant oversight — and not from the passenger seat.