It shouldn’t have to be said, but autopilot is not the same as self-driving technology. Unfortunately, Tesla drivers in the U.S. and U.K. made headlines this weekend for making that mistake, causing serious consequences.
On Saturday, Bhavesh Patel of Nottingham, England, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving, according to BBC News. Patel was caught sitting on the passenger side of his Tesla S 60 on the M1 highway near Hemel Hempstead, while his car’s autopilot mode did the heavy lifting of keeping him alive on the highway. A witness in another car filmed Patel sitting casually on the passenger side as his vehicle cruised at 40 m.p.h. He paid a fine of £1,800 (roughly $2500) and has since been banned from driving.
The dangerous move comes just one day after model and actress Hari Nef received backlash for posting a video on her Instagram account of fellow model Jacob Bixenman sitting with his hands under his chin, facing the camera and smiling while the Tesla drives itself. The since-deleted footage also shows Bixenman texting and looking down while the car auto-steers. “We’re all going to die!” someone in the car jokes before the video ends. After receiving online backlash, the videos were removed.
Before being banned from the road, Patel was equally as nonchalant by letting his autopilot feature pretend it’s self-driving. A statement provided by a Tesla engineer was read in the courtroom, confirming that the autopilot feature is intended to assist a “fully-attentive driver” who very much still needs to sit in the driver’s seat and operate the vehicle. According to court documents, Patel told officers that what he had done was just “silly” but not dangerous, adding that he was the “unlucky one who got caught.”
Patel might be right about the commonality of this potentially lethal mistake. In January, two Tesla drivers blamed their car crashes on autopilot technology, adding to a growing trend of drunk or distracted Tesla drivers assuming that autopilot can take them home safely. In 2016, a Tesla driver was famously caught watching Harry Potter on DVD when their car crashed from relying on the autopilot feature.
After reviewing the now-deleted videos from Nef’s Instagram, a Tesla spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that these behaviors are the furthest from the company’s instructions for using autopilot mode. Tesla drivers are asked to “keep [their] hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and “be prepared to take over at any time.”
Not only is treating autopilot like self-driving extremely dangerous but with every Tesla crash comes greater scrutiny of whether self-driving features are ready to enter mainstream car production and join the road. Tesla drivers who clearly yearn for self-driving technology aren’t doing themselves any favors by misusing the autopilot feature.