A Tesla owner who decided to switch seats while in autopilot mode is facing an 18-month ban from driving.
Bhavesh Patel of Nottingham, England decided to move to the passenger seat shortly after putting his electric car into the autopilot mode. Patel managed to do this while the car was traveling at 40 mph on a motorway.
Other drivers caught neglecting their responsibilities behind the autopilot's wheel often get caught after a wreck or incident. Patel, however, was a different case. A witness in another car filmed Patel sitting in the passenger seat of his Tesla rather than behind the wheel. That witness then posted the video online to social media where it gained attention, including from police.
Patel was the "unlucky one who got caught," he said in a statement to the court.
Tesla was again cleared of involvement in this situation. A statement was provided to the courts by a Tesla engineer. The engineer's statement reiterated what the company has said for years -- the autopilot was intended to help out a "fully-attentive driver."
There is a point of issue on Tesla's end which it had to defend in the courts. Typically, the autopilot system needs drivers to keep their hands on the wheel. If hands are taken off for more than a minute, the Autopilot feature begins to shut down. If long enough, the Autopilot could stop for the whole ride. So how was Patel able to stay in the passenger's seat for anything longer than a minute?
PC Kirk Caldicutt from Hertfordshire Police 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."
Patel will do more than sit through an 18 month suspension of his driving. He must also contribute 100 hours of unpaid hours (volunteer work), go through 10 days of rehabilitation, and pay £1,800 (roughly $2,480) fines and costs.
In a world of a rapidly-evolving autonomous driving market, there's increasing discussion around who exactly is responsible for autopilot systems. However, the discussions need to be had as more injuries and even deaths related to autopilot vs human responsibility continue.
Tesla is no stranger to deaths caused in part by distracted humans behind the wheel. The company investigated a fatal Tesla Model S crash last June, and authorities determined that the driver had ignored repeated company instructions to keep his hands on the wheel -- even while using the autopilot function. That driver died after taking back control too late after a tractor trailer hit its brakes on a roadway.
Tesla's Autopilot in particular hasn't only been isolated to negative press. In December 2016, the Autopilot 8.0 on a Model X detected a crash before it could affect the car, giving the driver enough time to react with an enormous help from the Autopilot function.