Tesla ‘driver’ keeps being snapped riding in the backseat of his car while it’s on autopilot

A Tesla driver from California has been caught on camera lounging in the backseat of his Model 3 car while driving on Autopilot. 

While the driver has not been identified, he could face dangerous driving charges if police caught him misusing the Autopilot feature.

The Tesla Autopilot is intended to assist a fully attentive driver and is not fully autonomous or a ‘self-driving’ car. Before enabling Autopilot, a driver must agree to ‘keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times’ and to always ‘maintain control and responsibility for your car.’   

Despite his actions being both dangerous and illegal, the California Tesla driver appeared to get a kick out of being caught on camera and sported a wide grin as he was snapped being overtaken by a fellow driver in Berkeley on May 4.

In another picture, taken at a toll plaza to the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3, he could be seen with his foot resting on the steering wheel while he sat comfortably in the rear.

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A Tesla Model 3 driver has been caught on camera sitting in the back seat while the car appears to be driving itself and on Autopilot. The man was spotted in Berkeley, California on May 4

A Tesla Model 3 driver has been caught on camera sitting in the back seat while the car appears to be driving itself and on Autopilot. The man was spotted in Berkeley, California on May 4

A Tesla Model 3 driver has been caught on camera sitting in the back seat while the car appears to be driving itself and on Autopilot. The man was spotted in Berkeley, California on May 4

The man, who has yet to be identified, has been spotted repeatedly on social media (in Berkeley, California on May 4)

The man, who has yet to be identified, has been spotted repeatedly on social media (in Berkeley, California on May 4)

The man, who has yet to be identified, has been spotted repeatedly on social media (in Berkeley, California on May 4)

The man, who has not yet been identified seems to enjoy being caught on camera. He was spotted here in Berkeley, California

The man, who has not yet been identified seems to enjoy being caught on camera. He was spotted here in Berkeley, California

The man, who has not yet been identified seems to enjoy being caught on camera. He was spotted here in Berkeley, California

The vehicle requires some sort of pressure on the on the column at regular intervals in order for the Autopilot to continue to function, although it does depend on speed.   

The driver’s seatbelt also needs to be fastened but the belt can be buckled without the driver sitting  in the seat.

Last month, a researcher showed how it was easy to ‘trick’ the Autopilot feature into thinking there was a driver at the wheel by using a heavy object such as a weighted chain.

Tesla promote their Autopilot system as a suite of driver assisted features and not as an autonomous driving system.   

Upon activating the system, Tesla warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and to be ready to take control at all times. Drivers should be seated in the driver’s seat. 

Autopilot deactivates if a drivers seatbelt is unbuckled and some have suggested that if no weight is detected in the front seat that the system should also switch off.

In another picture posted to social media, the man's foot can be seen on the steering wheel. It's believed this image was taken at a toll plaza to the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3

In another picture posted to social media, the man's foot can be seen on the steering wheel. It's believed this image was taken at a toll plaza to the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3

In another picture posted to social media, the man’s foot can be seen on the steering wheel. It’s believed this image was taken at a toll plaza to the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3

The vehicle requires some sort of pressure on the on the steering column at regular intervals in order for the Autopilot to continue to function (he is spotted on the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3)

The vehicle requires some sort of pressure on the on the steering column at regular intervals in order for the Autopilot to continue to function (he is spotted on the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3)

The vehicle requires some sort of pressure on the on the steering column at regular intervals in order for the Autopilot to continue to function (he is spotted on the San Francisco Bay Bridge on May 3)

Using a weighted chain, the researcher 'easily' tricked Autopilot into operating without a driver at the wheel

Using a weighted chain, the researcher 'easily' tricked Autopilot into operating without a driver at the wheel

Using a weighted chain, the researcher ‘easily’ tricked Autopilot into operating without a driver at the wheel

How does Tesla’s Autopilot work?

Autopilot uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to see and sense the environment around the car. 

The sensor and camera suite provides drivers with an awareness of their surroundings that a driver alone would not otherwise have. 

A powerful onboard computer processes these inputs in a matter of milliseconds to help what the company say makes driving ‘safer and less stressful.’

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, driver 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 drivers to place their hands on the wheel. 

If drivers repeatedly ignore the warnings, they are locked out from using Autopilot during that trip.

Any of Autopilot’s features can be overridden at any time by steering or applying the brakes.

The Autopilot does not function well in poor visibility (due to heavy rain, snow, fog, etc.), bright light (due to oncoming headlights, direct sunlight, etc.), mud, ice, snow, interference or obstruction by objects mounted onto the vehicle (such as a bike rack), obstruction caused by applying excessive paint or adhesive products (such as wraps, stickers, rubber coating, etc.) onto the vehicle; narrow, high curvature or winding roads, a damaged or misaligned bumper, interference from other equipment that generates ultrasonic waves, extremely hot or cold temperatures.

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On Thursday it was announced the California Highway Patrol is investigating why a Tesla vehicle crashed into an overturned truck on a highway near Fontana on Wednesday, killing the Tesla´s driver. 

The patrol did not say whether the Tesla was operating on Autopilot or not.

The Mack truck, which the Tesla collided with, had crashed and overturned just five minutes earlier, blocking two lanes of the highway, the report said. Tesla have yet to comment on the incident.

The crash is the latest fatality involving a Tesla and comes just weeks after another Tesla smashed into a tree and burst into flames in Texas, resulting in the deaths of two men.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has previously said a Tesla operating on Autopilot, which partially automates steering, braking and speed control, is safer than a car operated solely by a human driver. 

Last month, a Tesla smashed into a tree and burst into flames in Texas, resulting in the deaths of two men – the car’s owner Doctor William Varner, and his pal Everette Talbot.

Police had said it was apparent that there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash in the wealthy The Woodlands neighborhood of Houston, on April 17.

But Tesla had refuted police’s claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested that someone was likely in the driver’s seat. 

One Tesla owner posted pictures of themselves in various poses in their Tesla

One Tesla owner posted pictures of themselves in various poses in their Tesla

In a TikTok one driver decided to pretend they were working while driving down a busy highway

In a TikTok one driver decided to pretend they were working while driving down a busy highway

One Tesla owner posted pictures of themselves in various poses in their Tesla

The driver isn't anywhere near the steering wheel as he enjoys a meal while being driven on Autopilot

The driver isn't anywhere near the steering wheel as he enjoys a meal while being driven on Autopilot

In another clip, the driver have ben seen having a snooze while being driven along a busy interstate

In another clip, the driver have ben seen having a snooze while being driven along a busy interstate

The TikTok shows the driver doing everything from sleeping and eating to reading and working

The California Highway Patrol is investigating why the Tesla crashed into the overturned truck (above). It isn't known if the Tesla was operating on Autopilot when the crash occurred

The California Highway Patrol is investigating why the Tesla crashed into the overturned truck (above). It isn't known if the Tesla was operating on Autopilot when the crash occurred

The California Highway Patrol is investigating why the Tesla crashed into the overturned truck (above). It isn’t known if the Tesla was operating on Autopilot when the crash occurred

One man, 35, was killed and two were injured after a Tesla vehicle crashed into an overturned truck (above) on the 210 Freeway near Fontana, California, at around 2:40am on Wednesday

One man, 35, was killed and two were injured after a Tesla vehicle crashed into an overturned truck (above) on the 210 Freeway near Fontana, California, at around 2:40am on Wednesday

One man, 35, was killed and two were injured after a Tesla vehicle crashed into an overturned truck (above) on the 210 Freeway near Fontana, California, at around 2:40am on Wednesday

Varner, 59, and Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S  – bought second-hand off eBay in January – smashed into a tree and burst into flames. 

At the end of April, the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office’s report revealed more details as to how the flames took hold. 

It reiterated local police’s assertion that no one was in the driver’s seat while the report classifies the crash as accidental.

Investigator Chris Johnson stated that the fire was caused by the collision. The report did not note the car’s speed or whether air bags and seat belts were used. 

Tesla had not commented. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are both investigating. 

It’s one of more than 20 accidents involving Tesla vehicles Federal highway safety regulators are looking into. 

It also detailed how the vehicle’s ‘hood, front doors, front body panels, forward support pillars, trunk and roof were completely destroyed’.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has previously said a Tesla operating on Autopilot, which partially automates steering, braking and speed control, is safer than a car operated solely by a human driver

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has previously said a Tesla operating on Autopilot, which partially automates steering, braking and speed control, is safer than a car operated solely by a human driver

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has previously said a Tesla operating on Autopilot, which partially automates steering, braking and speed control, is safer than a car operated solely by a human driver

Talbot was seated ‘in a forward-leaning position, with both arms rolled forward’, according to the report, while Varner was ‘in a rear-leaning position, with both arms rolled back and in a pugilistic pose.’ 

It added: ‘Multiple fire patterns produced by both the movement and intensity of the fire indicate that the fire originated from the vehicle’s power distribution system and related components located at the front end of the vehicle.’

‘Any extensive damage to the battery, the power distribution systems, or the systems associated with battery cell temp regulation can result in electrical arcing and/or thermal runaway of the lithium-ion cells, which are both competent source of ignition. 

‘The vehicle sustained a significant front end collision which damaged one, or many of these systems, leading to the development of fire within with the vehicle. 

Varner’s Model S crashed into trees just a few hundred yards from his $2million home in the gated community of Carlton Woods Creekside. 

Talbot is said to have been found in the front passenger seat and the car’s owner, Varner, in the back seat. Police said it was apparent that there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in the crash’s immediate aftermath data downloaded by Tesla indicate the vehicle was not operating on Autopilot, its semi-autonomous driving system. 

Police said it was apparent there was no one in the driver's seat but Tesla refuted police's claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested someone was likely in the driver's seat

Police said it was apparent there was no one in the driver's seat but Tesla refuted police's claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested someone was likely in the driver's seat

Police said it was apparent there was no one in the driver’s seat but Tesla refuted police’s claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested someone was likely in the driver’s seat

Varner's Model S (pictured: remains of Tesla at crash scene) crashed into trees just a few hundred yards from his $2million home in the gated community of Carlton Woods Creekside

Varner's Model S (pictured: remains of Tesla at crash scene) crashed into trees just a few hundred yards from his $2million home in the gated community of Carlton Woods Creekside

Varner’s Model S (pictured: remains of Tesla at crash scene) crashed into trees just a few hundred yards from his $2million home in the gated community of Carlton Woods Creekside 

Dr. William Varner, 59, (above) and Everette Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames.

Dr. William Varner, 59, (above) and Everette Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames.

Dr. William Varner, 59, and Everette Talbot (pictured), 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames

Dr. William Varner, 59, and Everette Talbot (pictured), 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames

Dr. William Varner, 59, and Everette Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S smashed into a tree and burst into flames 

Later in April, Tesla had again refuted police’s claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested that someone was likely in the driver’s seat. 

The Autopilot system handles some driving tasks such as keeping lanes and maintaining distances between cars, but experts say the term ‘Autopilot’ can be misleading consumers to believe that the car can drive by itself. 

Tesla says its features ‘require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous’.

To engage Tesla’s autopilot, the car must think someone is at the wheel by detecting the weight of their hands on the steering wheel. If it doesn’t, it’ll stop but it can take up to 30 seconds for it to do so. 

Autopilot must detect road markings before it can be enabled, according to Tesla. There are no markings on the private road they were on.

Timeline of fatal crashes tied to Tesla Autopilot

January 20, 2016 in China: Gao Yaning, 23, died when the Tesla Model S he was driving slammed into a road sweeper on a highway near Handan, a city about 300 miles south of Beijing. Chinese media reported that Autopilot was engaged.

May 7, 2016 in Williston, Florida: Joshua D. Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio died when cameras in his Tesla Model S failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky.

The NTSB found that the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way and a car driver’s inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation were the probable cause of the crash.

The NTSB also noted that Tesla Autopilot permitted the car driver to become dangerously disengaged with driving. A DVD player and Harry Potter movies were found in the car.

March 23, 2018 in Mountain View, California: Apple software engineer Walter Huang, 38, died in a crash on U.S. Highway 101 with the Autopilot on his Tesla engaged.

The vehicle accelerated to 71 mph seconds before crashing into a freeway barrier, federal investigators found. 

The NTSB, in a preliminary report on the crash, also said that data shows the Model X SUV did not brake or try to steer around the barrier in the three seconds before the crash in Silicon Valley. 

March 1, 2019 in Delray, Florida: Jeremy Banner, 50, died when his 2018 Tesla Model 3 slammed into a semi-truck.

NTSB investigators said Banner turned on the autopilot feature about 10 seconds before the crash, and the autopilot did not execute any evasive maneuvers to avoid the crash. 

April 17, 2021 in Houston, Texas 

A Tesla smashed into a tree and burst into flames in Texas, resulting in the deaths of two men – the car’s owner Doctor William Varner, and his pal Everette Talbot.

Police had said it was apparent that there was no one in the driver’s seat at the time of the crash in the wealthy The Woodlands neighborhood of Houston, on April 17.

But Tesla had refuted police’s claims, saying a deformed steering wheel suggested that someone was likely in the driver’s seat. 

Varner, 59, and Talbot, 69, both died in the fatal crash when the Tesla Model S  – bought second-hand off eBay in January – smashed into a tree and burst into flames. 

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