Tesla driver banned after switching on autopilot then moving into passenger seat on busy motorway

A Tesla driver who switched on his supercar’s autopilot on a busy motorway then moved in to the passenger seat has been banned from driving for 18 months.

Bhavesh Patel, 39, was driving his Tesla S 60 on the M1 at 7.40pm on May 21 last year when he switched on its autopilot function then moved in to the passenger seat, leaving the steering wheel and foot controls completely unmanned.

<em>Autopilot – Bhavesh Patel switched on his Tesla’s autopilot then moved into the passenger seat (Picture: SWNS)</em>
Autopilot – Bhavesh Patel switched on his Tesla’s autopilot then moved into the passenger seat (Picture: SWNS)

A passenger in another car noticed Patel, who had owned the car for a maximum of five months at the time of the incident, and filmed him as he drove past.

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

<em>Bhavesh Patel was filmed sitting in the passenger seat on the motorway after engaging his Tesla’s autopilot functions (Picture: SWNS)</em>
Bhavesh Patel was filmed sitting in the passenger seat on the motorway after engaging his Tesla’s autopilot functions (Picture: SWNS)

Footage of the incident first posted on social media before being reported to police, leading to Patel’s prosecution.

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

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As well as his 18-month disqualification, he was given 100 hours unpaid work, ordered to carry out 10 days rehabilitation and pay £1,800 in costs.

According to witness accounts, traffic at the time of the offence was heavy due to congestion and the car was estimated to be travelling at around 40mph.

<em>Silly – Patel admitted what he had done was ‘silly’ but said he was just the ‘unlucky one who got caught’ (Picture: SWNS)</em>
Silly – Patel admitted what he had done was ‘silly’ but said he was just the ‘unlucky one who got caught’ (Picture: SWNS)

When he was interviewed by police, Patel admitted that he knew what he had done was “silly” but the car was capable of something “amazing” and 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” that is intended to provide assistance to a “fully-attentive driver”.

The feature includes Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), which assists with acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle, and Autosteer which helps steer the vehicle.

Tesla said 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”.

<em>Irresponsible – police said Patel’s actions could have ended in tragedy, risking his own life and others on the motorway (Picture: SWNS)</em>
Irresponsible – police said Patel’s actions could have ended in tragedy, risking his own life and others on the motorway (Picture: SWNS)

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.”

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