A San Francisco Tesla owner keeps ignoring the limitations of the electric car’s Autopilot feature.
Earlier this week, 25-year-old Param Sharma was arrested on suspicion of reckless driving after being spotted riding across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco to Oakland. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) had received a report about someone sitting in the backseat of a Tesla Model 3.
CHP officials in Oakland pulled him over and arrested him. Before this week’s arrest, he’d been spotted around the Bay Area in different Tesla Model 3s. And he was always in the backseat with his foot on the wheel while the car was driving with Autopilot engaged.
Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driving assistance system keeps the car in its lane and slows it down and speeds it up. With certain settings the car can switch lanes or take exit ramps on its own. The system explicitly states that drivers have to be seated at the wheel, with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. A Tesla support page says, “Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”
Sharma managed to trick sensors into thinking someone was at the wheel by using his foot. Consumer Reports recently showed how you can fool Tesla’s driver assistance system.
At the end of April, the CHP cited Sharma for driving a Tesla in the same manner. A video of his unsafe Tesla driving was caught on tape:
“The car doesn’t make mistakes,” Sharma told local news station KTVU. However, two men recently died in Texas while sitting in the back and front passenger seats while in a Tesla. It drove off the road and crashed into a tree.
After he was released from jail this week, Sharma was spotted in a new Tesla Model 3 once again “driving” the vehicle from the backseat. The CHP had impounded his previous Tesla, but he bought a new one.
He told the KTVU reporter, “I feel safer back here than I do up there.”
Tesla’s vehicles can seem more capable than they really are. The newest update to Autopilot is called “Full Self-Driving” and claims to work on any street without requiring hands on the wheel. It doesn’t always work without driver intervention.
As Tesla says on its website about FSD, “The future use of these features without supervision is dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions.”
Tesla does not have a permit to operate as a driverless car in California and requires a driver in the front seat.