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29th Apr 2018

Man banned from driving for riding Tesla down motorway in passenger seat

He had his hands behind his head as the vehicle cruised down the M1

Oli Dugmore

A Tesla driver who climbed into the passenger seat after turning on autopilot on the M1 has been banned from driving for 18 months

Bhavesh Patel, 39, even had his hands behind his head as he cruised along.

He pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, April 20.

Patel was driving his white Tesla S 60 along the northbound carriageway of the M1 near Hemel Hempstead.

While the car was in motion, he chose to switch on the supercar’s autopilot function before moving across to the passenger seat and 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, sat in the passenger seat of the vehicle.

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.

A witness said the traffic was heavy due to congestion and it has been estimated that the vehicle was travelling at approximately 40mph at the time.

Footage of the incident was first posted on social media before it was 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 to them 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.”

As part of the investigation, officers obtained a statement from a Tesla engineer who described autopilot as a ‘suite of driver assistance features’.

They stated that these are hands-on features 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.

Further literature provided by Tesla states 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.”

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 also given 100 hours unpaid work, ordered to carry out 10 days rehabilitation and pay £1,800 in costs to the Crown Prosecution Service.