Tesla says its new vehicles are equipped with the hardware needed for fully driverless operation, but as it stands today with regulations, testing, and the availability of features, Autopilot remains a semi-autonomous system that requires a driver’s hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. But one man in Britain failed to make this distinction, or decided anyway to kick back in the passenger seat while his Tesla Model S cruised down the highway in Autopilot mode. The police eventually caught up to him, and now he’s paying a hefty penalty for the stunt.
According to a police statement, the man switched into Autopilot before transferring to the passenger seat and resting his hands behind his head. That left no one in the driver seat to operate the steering wheel and pedals, as seen in the cellphone footage below. The incident, which took place last May, was posted to social media and then reported to police. Witnesses said the car was traveling at around 40 mph and traffic was heavy at the time. The man plead guilty earlier this month to dangerous driving charges in the U.K.
The man admitted that what he had done was “silly.” However, he also said the car was capable of something “amazing” and he was just the “unlucky one who got caught.” Meanwhile, officers have a different attitude toward the situation. In the police statement, investigating officer PC Kirk Caldicutt said the man’s actions were “grossly irresponsible and could have easily ended in tragedy.” And, of course, Tesla makes it clear that drivers need to have their hands on the wheel at all times and be ready to take full control of the vehicle while it’s in Autopilot mode.
The local court sentenced the man to 100 hours of community service and ordered him to pay 1,800 pounds toward the cost of his prosecution. He was also banned from driving for 18 months and faces 10 days of rehabilitation.
There have been two deaths in Autopilot-engaged Tesla cars here in the U.S. In a 2016 incident in Florida, investigators concluded that the crash was not caused by a flaw in Tesla’s technology, saying that the owner of the car ignored the car’s warnings to stay in control of the vehicle. Just this March, a Tesla Model X on Autopilot was involved in a fatal crash in California. The driver’s hands were reportedly not detected on the wheel six seconds before he crashed into a concrete divider on the highway