Man disqualified for turning on autopilot and moving to passenger seat while driving in Hemel Hempstead

Patel, circled, was filmed sitting in the passenger seat
Patel, circled, was filmed sitting in the passenger seat

A man who switched on his car’s autopilot before moving to the passenger seat while travelling on the M1 in Hemel Hempstead has been banned from driving for 18 months.

Bhavesh Patel, aged 39, of Alfreton Road, Nottingham, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court on Friday, April 20.

The court heard that at 7.40pm on May 21, 2017, Patel was driving his white Tesla S 60 along the northbound carriageway between junctions 8 and 9 near Hemel.

He switched on the supercar’s autopilot function while driving before moving across to the passenger seat and leaving the steering wheel and foot controls completely unmanned.

A witness noticed Patel, who had owned the car for a maximum of five months at the time of the incident, sat in the passenger seat of the vehicle.

No-one could be seen in the driver’s seat and Patel appeared to have his hands behind his head. The witness, who was a passenger in another car, filmed Patel as the car drove past.

Witness accounts state that traffic was heavy due to congestion and it has been estimated that the vehicle was travelling at approximately 40mph at the time.

Footage of the incident was first posted on social media before it was reported to police and a Notice of Intended Prosecution was then sent to Patel in the post. He was later interviewed by officers at Stevenage Police Station.

He admitted to them that he knew what he had done was ‘silly’ but the car was capable of something ‘amazing’ and that he was just the ‘unlucky one who got caught’.

Literature from Tesla states that drivers should ‘never depend on' the type of cruise control Patel was using to 'adequately slow down' the car. It added that drivers should 'always watch the road in front of you and be prepared to take corrective action at all times. Failure to do so can result in serious injury or death’.

Investigating officer PC Kirk Caldicutt, from the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire Road Policing Unit, said: “What Patel did was grossly irresponsible and could have easily ended in tragedy. He not only endangered his own life but the lives of other innocent people using the motorway on that day.

“This case should serve as an example to all drivers who have access to autopilot controls and have thought about attempting something similar. I want to stress that they are in no way a substitute for a competent motorist in the driving seat who can react appropriately to the road ahead.

“I hope Patel uses his disqualification period to reflect on why he chose to make such a reckless decision on that day.”

As well as his 18-month disqualification, Patel was also given 100 hours unpaid work, ordered to carry out 10 days rehabilitation and pay £1,800 in costs to the Crown Prosecution Service.