A motorist who put his Tesla on autopilot before climbing into the passenger seat on the M1 has been banned from driving for 18 months.
Bhavesh Patel, 39, was spotted by a passing driver with his hands behind his head as his car sped along the congested motorway at 40mph.
Pleading guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, April 20, he admitted he had been ‘silly’ but said the car was ‘amazing’ and he was just the ‘unlucky one who got caught’.
The court heard that just before 8pm on May 21 last year Patel was driving his white Tesla S 60 along the northbound carriageway of the M1, between junctions 8 and 9 near Hemel Hempstead.
Traffic was heavy due to congestion when Patel switched on the the supercar’s autopilot function before moving across to the passenger seat – leaving the steering wheel and foot controls unmanned.
Tesla S 60: How safe is the car’s autopilot?
Also know as Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC), autopilot controls acceleration, braking and turning.
A Tesla engineer described the car’s autopilot as a ‘suite of driver assistance features’.
They added it is a ‘hands-on feature’ intended to only provide assistance to a ‘fully-attentive driver’.
Tesla warns drivers to ‘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’.
A witness saw Patel, of Alfreton Road, Nottingham sat in the passenger seat with his hands behind his head.
The witness quickly filmed Patel as they passed him on the right.
Investigating officer PC Kirk Caldicutt slammed Patel as ‘grossly irresponsible’, adding his behaviour could have ‘ended in tragedy’.
He said: ‘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.’
Police were alerted after the video were viral and and soon after a Notice of Intended Prosecution arrived at Patel’s home in the post. He was later interviewed by officers at Stevenage Police Station.
Patel was also hit with 100 hours of unpaid work, 10 days rehabilitation and £1,800 in costs to the Crown Prosecution Service.
Tesla’s website claims the Model S 60’s autopilot is ‘designed to make your highway driving not only safer, but stress free’
No hands! Bhavesh Patel, 39, was filmed in his Tesla S 60 on the congested M1
Tesla’s autopilot system has been blamed for a number of deadly crashes and near misses.
Tesla admitted a vehicle involved in a fatal California crash was operating on autopilot.
Walter Huang, 38, was killed in on March 23. He did not have hands on the steering wheel for six seconds before the crash.
Earlier this year, a self-driving Volvo SUV being tested by ride-hailing service Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, US.
Tesla Inc. defended its Autopilot feature in a blog post at the time, saying that while it doesn’t prevent all accidents, it makes them less likely to occur.