Abusing new pieces of technology and trying to work a way around the rules is something that some people enjoy a lot. One such person in California has been at it for the past week. Param Sharma, who owned a Tesla Model 3, was driving around the I-80 highway near the Bay Bridge region in California. Driving around may be a wrong term to use here because he was actually sitting in the rear seat, having put the car in Autopilot mode.
This incident caused quite a scene, as Tesla mandates that the driver must have his hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road at all times, ready to take over in case the system fails. A person driving beside Sharma’s car captured this on video, and uploaded it on Twitter:
This guy’s been seen riding in back of this @Tesla with his foot on wheel on the Bay Bridge, I-80 & across region. @CHP_GoldenGate investigating. No evidence of @MagicofRahat or Knight Rider hiding-in-seat trickery. @instagram ?: @paressadalycity pic.twitter.com/y30gBGOaN1
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) May 11, 2021
A day later, on 12th May, California Highway Patrol (CHP) Oakland arrested him for reckless driving. When the police officer stopped him, he moved into the driver’s seat. They arrested him ad towed his car away. He spent a day in jail before the authorities subsequently released him. After being released, he talked about KTVU Fox News, saying that he fully intended to continue his antics.
The Miscreant’s Side of the Story
Sharma said that his driving was not dangerous, which is why he won’t stop the ‘backseat driving’. He further claimed that sitting on the rear seat was actually how he drove home from jail. This time, he also had a friend in the rear seat. He said that he carried out a brake test, and on hitting the brakes really hard, the vehicle came to a complete stop without any problems. According to him, people are just scared.
However, other Tesla owners went into a rage on Twitter. David McPherson, a South Bay resident who has driven a Tesla for five years, explained that actual full-self driving technology is not yet here. Echoing Tesla’s concerns, he said that the risk involved in something like this is still very high.
Technology is not there yet. And being a Tesla owner, there’s still a lot of unknowns to take that risk or even consider it at this time.
A New Twist
True to his claims from a few days ago, Sharma repeated the act today. CHP Oakland had towed his car away because of the incident of reckless driving. However, immediately after getting out of jail, he bought a red Model 3. What’s more, he even repeated the same thing again. People once again took photos and videos and posted them on Twitter.
UPDATE 1/2: Param Sharma tells @JesseKTVU he already got a bright-red brand-new @Tesla Model 3 after @CHPoakland towed his other one because of his backseat driving pic.twitter.com/H5Ning2leP
— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) May 13, 2021
And this isn’t where his idiocracy ends. In the statement to KTVU on Wednesday, he said that he’ll just buy a new Tesla every time the police arrests him, and continue doing this.
I’m rich as f***. I’m very rich. I’ll just get a new Tesla every time. I have unlimited money to blow on Teslas. If you take my Tesla away, I will get another Tesla.
The court charged Sharma with two counts of reckless driving and disobeying a police officer. The Judge will most likely warn him of further consequences if his actions persist. Interestingly enough, he was charged for a similar incident in late April as well.
Why This is a Major Issue
The risks of driving a semi-autonomous vehicle without following a proper protocol are tremendous. Tesla has already made its stand clear about the autonomy of Autopilot. It even states so in the FAQ section on its website:
Yes. Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.
Before enabling Autopilot, you must agree to ‘keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times’ and to always ‘maintain control and responsibility for your car’. Once engaged, if insufficient torque is applied, Autopilot will also deliver an escalating series of visual and audio warnings, reminding you to place your hands on the wheel if insufficient torque is applied.
The misuse of Autopilot is also hazardous for other drivers, pedestrians and any other person nearby. Autopilot may be able to drive around on streets, but it has not cleared the necessary regulations for this. This means that you, and only you, are responsible for any incident that occurs when the vehicle is on Autopilot. The system is simply a driver-assist system and not a self-driving suite.
Finally, these incidents can cause a lot of damage to Tesla and other companies aiming to achieve full autonomy and get it past the regulatory committees. The regulations in the USA are already stringent, and such incidents can further dent the company’s chances.
There is something that Tesla can do here. We reported recently that a Tesla hacker managed to fool the driver monitoring system in Tesla vehicles. While Tesla relies on a camera-based system for driver monitoring, they can add a few features in their vehicles for a full-proof solution for such incidents. Sensing driver’s weight on the driving seat, and a more sophisticated steering wheel monitoring sensor can be some of them.
This shouldn’t take the focus away from people like Param Sharma. Their blatant disregard for rules can be a big obstacle not only from a safety point of view but also for getting autonomous systems past the regulatory committees.