U.K. Tesla Driver Gets 18-Month Driving Ban For Trusting Autopilot Way Too Much

April 29, 2018, 5:27 PM UTC
Tesla Introduces Self-Driving Features With Software Upgrade
A member of the media test drives a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S car equipped with Autopilot in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Tesla Motors Inc. will begin rolling out the first version of its highly anticipated "autopilot" features to owners of its all-electric Model S sedan Thursday. Autopilot is a step toward the vision of autonomous or self-driving cars, and includes features like automatic lane changing and the ability of the Model S to parallel park for you. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by David Paul Morris — Bloomberg via Getty Images

A driver in Nottingham, England has been banned from driving for 18 months after giving his Tesla’s autopilot a little too much responsibility. Bhavesh Patel, 39, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving after a witness saw him sitting in the passenger seat of his car, the driver’s seat empty, as it drove along the famous M1 highway on May 21 of last year.

According to the Hertfordshire police, Patel was even seen to have his hands behind his head as the car sped down the U.K.’s most well-known interstate. A passerby in another car caught the incident in a brief video, though Patel can’t be seen clearly.

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Though it ended without an accident, this is just the latest of a string of incidents in which drivers seem to have given autopilot a bit too much credit. In the U.S., a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation into the 2016 death of Tesla driver Joshua Brown concluded that his over-reliance on Autopilot contributed to his car’s collision with a tractor-trailer. Tesla has said over-reliance on Autopilot also played a role in another fatal crash in March of this year.

Tesla has repeatedly emphasized, both publicly and to drivers, that drivers using Autopilot must keep their hands on the wheel and their attention on the road. The Autopilot system itself contains an array of warnings and safeguards intended to remind drivers of this. That drivers seem so eager to ignore those warnings could point to the need for even more aggressive measures.