Although the exact features vary and the trademarked names the automakers give autonomous technology differ, they do have something in common. All of them require a driver in the driver’s seat to take over if something goes wrong. Looks like one guy in the U.K. missed that last part.
Bhavesh Patel of Nottingham took his Tesla Model S out on to the M1 highway and decided to engage the car’s autopilot function. No problem so far, but there are specific guidelines about driving with Tesla’s autopilot and they include, you guessed it, an actual driver.
Patel decided to ignore that requirement and scooted over into the passenger seat. Note, this is in the U.K. where they drive on the left so the wheel is on the right-hand side of the car. Patel, however, is seen lounging in the front passenger seat on the left in a video recorded by another person on the highway.
Patel wasn’t remorseful about this lapse in judgement that could have gotten him or someone else killed. According to the BBC,
The court heard Patel told officers what he had done was “silly” but his car was capable of something “amazing” when he was interviewed at Stevenage Police Station. He added he was the “unlucky one who got caught”.
In our view, he was the luckiest guy on the highway because he didn’t manage to kill anyone. He finished his trip that day without incident and the autopilot feature successfully navigated the highway to wherever it was that Patel was going, but he and everyone around him was pretty fortunate.
The authorities were none too impressed with his stunt. Patel was ordered to pay £1,800 to the Crown Prosecution Service, lost his right to drive for 18 months, and has to do 100 hours of community service.
The excitement over the idea that we have self-driving cars has automakers rushing to put the technology in every car possible. Features like adaptive cruise control, which can slow down and speed up with the flow of traffic, and lane keep assist that nudges the wheel to keep you in your lane are all autonomous features. Autopilot, however, sits at the top of the autonomous food chain because it does it all.
That doesn’t change the fact that it’s still new technology and it still requires a human at the wheel. Patel risked his life and the life of every person on the highway when he decided to slide out from behind that steering wheel.
There’s no denying this tech is cool and exciting. It feels very sci-fi to sit there and have the car do all the work, but this is still very new technology. These cars are still learning. They’re sort of like the toddler versions of good old fashioned automobiles.
Anyone who has spent a few minutes with a toddler knows they think they can do anything and are happy to try, but leaving them unattended can be disastrous. Think of the havoc a toddler can wreak in the time it takes you to answer the front door. Now imagine that same toddler driving down the highway at 65 mph. Yeah, not a good call. Follow the rules, people. It’s that simple.