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Tesla owner who “drives” from back seat got arrested, then did it again


Interior of a Tesla Model 3, with a mounted device showing an area map and directions.
Enlarge / Interior of a Tesla Model 3.

The California Highway Patrol said it arrested a man seen riding in the back seat of a Tesla Model 3 that had no one in the driver’s seat. Param Sharma, 25, was arrested “and booked into Santa Rita Jail” on counts of reckless driving and disobeying an officer, the department said in a statement Tuesday. Sharma was arrested after multiple 911 calls on Monday around 6:30 pm reported a driverless vehicle “traveling eastbound on I-80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toward the city of Oakland,” police said.

Sharma spent a night locked up, and he “committed the same crime shortly after being released from jail,” according to a story yesterday by KTVU Fox 2:

Param Sharma met KTVU’s Jesse Gary in San Francisco Wednesday afternoon, not far from his mother’s high-rise apartment. After getting out of jail on two counts of reckless driving, he pulled up sitting in the back seat of a Tesla with no one in the driver’s seat.

When asked if he purchased a new Tesla after the previous one was impounded he said, “Yeah, I’m rich as [expletive]. I’m very rich.”

“I feel safer back here than I do up there,” Sharma also told KTVU from the right-rear passenger seat.

Sharma expressed confidence in Tesla’s self-driving capabilities in another interview with KTVU. “I’ve been brake-checked before really hard, and the car stopped. The car came to a complete stop. [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk really knows what he’s doing, and I think people are tripping and they’re scared,” Sharma said.

The officer who pulled over Sharma “observed the individual move into the driver’s seat” and then bring the car to a stop, police said. Police said they had already “cited Sharma on April 27 for similar behavior.”

Sharma posted videos from back seat

Sharma this week also posted videos on Instagram of himself in the back seat of a moving Tesla with an empty driver’s seat. In one video, he is reading an article about himself titled “Man seen riding in the back seat of Tesla with no driver.” In a video posted yesterday, he says, “I just got out of jail. I already got [another] Tesla. You feel me, I’m rich like that. I came out of the pandemic a fucking millionaire, bitch.”

A California Highway Patrol spokesperson told Vice’s Motherboard that it is “recommending charges to the district attorney’s office” and “conducting a thorough investigation that will consider the possibility of previous incidents and obviously his social media.”

Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” isn’t “autonomous”

Tesla says that “Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver.” Consumer Reports last month found that Tesla’s driver-monitoring system “not only failed to make sure the driver was paying attention, but it also couldn’t tell if there was a driver there at all.”

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system has more capabilities, but both “Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment,” Tesla says.

Musk has said he expects the company to achieve Level 5 automation—the ability to drive without human attention—by the end of this year. However, a newly released California DMV memo says that Tesla’s director of Autopilot software, CJ Moore, told state regulators in March that Musk’s predicted timeline “does not match engineering reality.”

Tesla has a permit to “operate autonomous vehicles with human backup drivers in California,” but it does not have a permit “to put fully self-driving vehicles on California roads,” an Associated Press article noted in October 2020.

California law allows public use of autonomous cars if they meet certain conditions. But Tesla says its cars aren’t autonomous despite the names “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving.” A Tesla lawyer told the California DMV in December 2020, “[C]urrently neither Autopilot nor FSD Capability is an autonomous system, and currently no comprising feature, whether singularly or collectively, is autonomous or makes our vehicles autonomous.”

NTSB investigating deadly Tesla crash

In April, two men died when a Tesla Model S crashed into a tree in a residential neighborhood in Texas. Authorities said they found no one in the driver’s seat, but the National Transportation Safety Board’s preliminary report cast doubt on whether Tesla’s Autopilot system was being used. As we wrote at the time, “the NTSB says that video footage shows the occupants getting into the front seats of the car shortly before the crash,” and “the NTSB was unable to engage a component of Autopilot on the stretch of road where the crash happened.” NTSB investigators were able to “activate the Traffic Aware Cruise Control component of Autopilot on the stretch of road in question.”

“Using Autopilot requires both the Traffic Aware Cruise Control and the Autosteer systems to be engaged,” the NTSB report said.





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