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Bay Area Indian American Man Arrested for Recklessly Driving Tesla While in Backseat

Bay Area Indian American Man Arrested for Recklessly Driving Tesla While in Backseat

  • Param Sharma, 25, is detained without incident and booked into Santa Rita Jail on two counts of reckless driving and disobeying a Peace Officer.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) has arrested 25-year-old Param Sharma on May 11 for “reckless driving of a Tesla while in the backseat on Interstate 80 (I-80) in the Bay Area.” Sharma was arrested without incident and booked into Santa Rita Jail on two counts of reckless driving and disobeying a Peace Officer, CHP said in a statement on its Facebook page. The Tesla was towed from the scene for evidence, CHP noted, adding that the incident remains under investigation. 

CHP said multiple 911 calls on May 10 evening reported a person seated in the backseat of a Tesla Model 3 without anyone in the driver’s seat while the vehicle traveled on Interstate 80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. It is not clear, however, whether the Tesla was operating on the company’s Autopilot system. 

Tesla’s driver-assist features under its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving packages are still considered “level 2” on the self-driving scale, and they should always be used with full driver attention and the driver being ready to take control at all times.

Prior to Sharma’s arrest, at least two people had captured video of someone resembling Sharma operating his vehicle in the same reckless manner, said the CHP statement, adding that it ’s Oakland Area had cited Sharma on April 27 for similar behavior.

YouTuber Ingineerix had posted six seconds of footage that appear to depict Sharma staring straight into the camera lens as the driver of a neighboring car records him. Titling the clip, “Another dumba** abusing Tesla AP,”  Ingineerix, who SFGATE described as a friend of the videographer, wrote: “To be clear; There is nothing wrong with Tesla AP. It’s a driver assistance system that’s being abused. It’s no different than shifting your 2005 Honda Accord into D and climbing in the back seat, but the Tesla is a lot safer to do it in. The problem is the owner,” Ingineerix wrote. In the caption, Ingineerix alleged that the man has a history of reckless vehicle operation. According to SFist, two other drivers had previously shared pictures online of what appears to be the same man pulling the same stunt.

Missy Cummings, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Duke University who studies automated vehicles, told KTLA 5 that Sharma “is the only person she knows of who has been accused by police of misusing a partially automated driving system.” The case, she said, “increases pressure on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to regulate the systems.” 

As per the KTLa 5 report, “the National Transportation Safety Board, which also investigates crashes, has recommended that NHTSA and Tesla limit the type of roads where Autopilot can operate and that Tesla install a tougher driver monitoring system.”

The incident comes just weeks after two men were killed in Texas after a Tesla that “no one was driving” hit a tree, authorities said. Deputies responded to a crash at 11:25 p.m. CT April 17 near The Woodlands, an area about 30 miles north of Houston, Texas, officials said at the time. The vehicle, a 2019 Tesla Model S, was going at high speed when it ran off the road, hit a tree and burst into flames, according to Mark Herman, the Harris County Precinct 4 constable. One person was in the passenger seat and another was in the back seat, he said. Authorities identified the victims as men ages 69 and 59.

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In 2018, a 38-year-old driver was killed in Mountain View, California, after a Tesla Model X that was on Autopilot crashed into a concrete divider and caught fire. The company said at the time that no action had been taken by the driver, who had a 5-second view of the concrete divider. 

And in 2016, a 40-year-old driver in Florida was killed in a Tesla Model S on Autopilot that failed to stop when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of it. It’s also not the first time that drivers have tried to blame Tesla’s Autopilot for bad or illegal driving, even when the results haven’t been fatal. In March 2021, an underage teen who was driving a Tesla without a driver’s license or the owner’s permission got creative when the car was stopped by the police: She decided to jump in the back seat and claim the Tesla was self-driving. 

The incident happened near Daytona Beach, Florida, where a Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy pulled over a Tesla Model Y driving on the wrong side of the road. The “driver” ended up receiving a citation for driving without a license and the teens were left in the Florida Department of Children and Family’s custody for the night since the parents couldn’t get there immediately. In 2018, a drunk driver tried to get out of a DUI by claiming that his Tesla was driving itself.

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