Why a Tesla Driver Arrested for Backseat Driving. Really.

May 12, 2021 Topic: Tesla Region: Americas Blog Brand: Techland Tags: TechnologyTeslaAutopilotDriving

Why a Tesla Driver Arrested for Backseat Driving. Really.

Believe it or not, this is not the first time this has happened with a Tesla.

Nobody likes a backseat driver. New technology, however, has actually made it possible to literally drive from the back seat. But that doesn’t mean that doing so is safe, advisable, or legal. 

A twenty-five-year-old California man was arrested for reckless driving on May 10 because he had been driving his Tesla from the back seat, likely using Tesla’s autopilot feature, according to the Associated Press, which cited a Facebook post by the California Highway Patrol.

“On May 10 at approximately 6:34 p.m., the CHP’s Golden Gate Division Communications Center received multiple 9-1-1 calls regarding an individual seated in the backseat of a Tesla Model 3 without anyone seated in the driver’s seat,” the Facebook post said. “The vehicle was reported to be traveling eastbound on I-80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toward the city of Oakland.” 

A CHP officer followed the car and saw the driver move from the back seat to the front. The man was arrested on two counts of reckless driving and disobeying a Peace Officer.

Tesla has only offered a “limited number of owners” to test out the self-driving feature and it’s not clear if the man arrested was one of them, according to the Associated Press.

Believe it or not, this is not the first time this has happened with a Tesla. In 2015, per Business Insider, a video surfaced on YouTube of a driver “[sitting] in the backseat while filming the Autopilot feature doing all of the work.” The video, which was filmed on a highway in The Netherlands, surfaced just weeks after the Autopilot feature was first introduced; the video is no longer available on YouTube. 

“There’s been some fairly crazy videos on YouTube . . . this is not good,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the time, per the report. “And we will be putting some additional constraints on when Autopilot can be activated to minimize the possibility of people doing crazy things with it.”

But five years later, in September of 2020, a Tesla owner in Canada was arrested for driving ninety miles per hour, while asleep.

The man’s 2019 Tesla Model S “appeared to be self-driving,” per the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “traveling over 140 km/h, with both front seats completely reclined and both occupants appearing to be asleep.” The car even accelerated while police were chasing it, according to The Verge.

“Although manufacturers of new vehicles have built-in safeguards to prevent drivers from taking advantage of the new safety systems in vehicles, those systems are just that—supplemental safety systems,” Superintendent Gary Graham of Alberta RCMP Traffic Services said in a statement. “They are not self-driving systems, they still come with the responsibility of driving.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters