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. (credit: Tesla)

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.

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Fatal Tesla Model S crash unlikely to involve Autopilot, according to NTSB

A red sedan cruises down a tree-lined highway.

Enlarge (credit: Andrei Stanescu / Getty Images)

On Monday afternoon, the National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report for its investigation into a crash of a Tesla Model S that killed the driver and passenger in Texas earlier in April. The crash made headlines because no one was found in the driver’s seat, raising suspicions that Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system was involved in the deaths. This now seems unlikely—the NTSB says that video footage shows the occupants getting into the front seats of the car shortly before the crash. Additionally, the NTSB was unable to engage a component of Autopilot on the stretch of road where the crash happened.

The crash occurred on April 17 in Spring, located in Harris County, Texas. According to the NTSB report, footage from the owner’s home security system shows that the driver and a passenger entered the car at the owner’s house. They then traveled approximately 550 feet (167 m) “before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.” At this point, the Tesla’s lithium-ion traction battery was damaged and caught fire.

The fire also destroyed the on-board storage of the Tesla’s infotainment system, but the NTSB says it recovered a fire-damaged restraint control module that can “record data associated with vehicle speed, belt status, acceleration, and airbag deployment.” This module has been taken to the NTSB’s recorder laboratory for further testing.

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NTSB: Autopilot could not have been engaged in fatal Tesla crash

Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system known as Autopilot could not have been engaged on the stretch of road where a Model S crashed last month in Texas, killing the two occupants, according to a preliminary report released Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The results help clear up some of the mysteries around the crash, which has received widespread attention after police reported that there was no one in the driver’s seat, leading to speculation that Autopilot was functioning at the time.

Only adaptive cruise control, one of the functions in Autopilot, could be engaged in that section of the road, according to the NTSB. Autosteer, another feature that keeps the vehicle in the lane, was not available on that part of the road, the report says. The preliminary report supports comments made during Tesla’s vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy, who said during an earnings call that adaptive cruise control was engaged and accelerated to 30 miles per hour before the car crashed.

NTSB also confirmed there were only two occupants in the vehicle. When the two men were found, one was in the passenger seat and the other was in the back seat, which led to speculation about whether Autopilot was engaged and even conspiracy theories that there was a third occupant.

“Footage from the owner’s home security camera shows the owner entering the car’s driver’s seat and the passenger entering the front passenger seat,” the report reads. “The car leaves and travels about 550 feet before departing the road on a curve, driving over the curb, and hitting a drainage culvert, a raised manhole, and a tree.”

What is still unknown is whether the driver moved to another seat before or after the crash.

The NTSB said it will continue to collect data to analyze the crash dynamics, postmortem toxicology test results, seat belt use, occupant egress and electric vehicle fires. All aspects of the crash remain under investigation, the NTSB said.

The NTSB’s preliminary report also indicated that the crash of the Tesla Model S, which caught fire after hitting a tree, destroyed an onboard storage device and damaged the restraint control module — two components that could have provided important information about the cause of the incident. The car’s restraint control module, which can record data associated with vehicle speed, belt status, acceleration, and airbag deployment, was recovered but sustained fire damage, the agency said. The NTSB has taken the restraint control module to its recorder laboratory for evaluation.

The NTSB is investigating the crash with support from Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Harris County Texas Precinct 4 Constable’s Office is conducting a separate, parallel investigation.

#adas, #automotive, #autopilot, #elon-musk, #model-s, #ntsb, #tesla

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Legislation would mandate driver-monitoring tech in every car

A surprised woman gleefully lets go of her car's steering wheel.

Enlarge / A woman test drives Cadillac’s Super Cruise hands-free driver-assistance feature in 2018. Super Cruise includes a camera-based eye-tracking technology to ensure drivers are watching the road. (credit: Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for Cadillac)

Three United States senators on Monday proposed legislation that would require all new cars in the United States to have driver-monitoring systems within six years. Two of the legislation’s sponsors—Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)—recently sent a letter to federal regulators expressing concern about last week’s fatal Tesla crash in Texas.

It’s not clear how a 2019 Tesla Model S wound up crashing into a tree at high speed in a residential neighborhood outside Houston. Police reported that neither of the vehicle’s two passengers was in the driver’s seat: one was in the front passenger seat, while the other was sitting in a rear seat.

The crash has drawn more attention to the long-running debate over adding driver-monitoring technology to cars. A few carmakers have already adopted robust driver-monitoring technology. Cadillac’s Super Cruise driver-assistance technology, for example, uses a driver-facing camera to verify that the driver’s eyes are focused on the road. Drivers can take their hands off the wheel while Super Cruise is active. But if they stop looking at the road ahead, Super Cruise will warn them and eventually disengage.

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Consumer Reports shows Tesla Autopilot works with no one in the driver’s seat

Consumer Reports shows Tesla Autopilot works with no one in the driver’s seat

Enlarge (credit: Sjo / Getty)

Last Saturday, two men died when a Tesla Model S crashed into a tree in a residential neighborhood. Authorities said they found no one in the driver’s seat—one man was in the front passenger seat, while the other was in the back. That led to speculation that the car might have been under the control of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system at the time of the crash.

Elon Musk has tweeted that “data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled.” Tesla defenders also insisted that Autopilot couldn’t have been active because the technology doesn’t operate unless someone is in the driver’s seat. Consumer Reports decided to test this latter claim by seeing if it could get Autopilot to activate without anyone in the driver’s seat.

It turned out not to be very difficult.

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Elon Musk denies Autopilot was active before deadly crash in Texas

Elon Musk denies Autopilot was active before deadly crash in Texas

Enlarge (credit: felixmizioznikov / Getty)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is fighting back against speculation that a deadly Tesla crash in the Houston area on Saturday might have occurred while Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance software was active.

“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled,” Musk tweeted on Monday afternoon.

The vehicle was totaled, so it’s not clear if crash data on the vehicle survived. But Tesla vehicles are equipped with cellular connections, and the 2019 Model S may have transmitted key data wirelessly to Tesla’s servers in the seconds after the crash.

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Cops “almost 99.9% sure” Tesla had no one at the wheel before deadly crash

Cops “almost 99.9% sure” Tesla had no one at the wheel before deadly crash

Enlarge (credit: Sundry Photography / Getty)

A 2019 Tesla Model S has crashed in a fiery blaze in the Woodlands, an area north of Houston. The crash, which happened on Saturday around 11:25 pm local time, killed two people inside.

“Our preliminary investigation is determining—but it’s not complete yet—that there was no one at the wheel of that vehicle,” said Harris County Constable Mark Herman in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “We’re almost 99.9 percent sure.”

Police found one of the passengers in the front right passenger seat, while the other was sitting in the back.

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No one behind the wheel in deadly Tesla crash Saturday night, say authorities

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is opening an investigation into a crash involving a Tesla that authorities say was operating with no one behind the wheel, which left two men dead on late Saturday evening outside of Houston.

The 2019 Tesla Model S went off the road after it failed to negotiate a slight curve, local CBS-affiliate KHOU-TV reported. Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman told local reporters that the accident was unprecedented.

“Our office has never experienced a crash scene like this,” he said. “Normally, when the fire dept arrives, they have a vehicle fire under control in minutes, but this went on for close to four hours.” The long burn time was reportedly due to the electric vehicle batteries repeatedly reigniting.

More than 30,000 gallons of water were used to put out the fire. One of the victims was in the front passenger seat and the other was in the backseat, “and at the time of the accident there was no one in the [driver’s] seat,” Herman said.

Earlier on the day of the crash, Tesla CEO Elon Musk retweeted news that the company released its first-quarter 2021 safety report. “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle,” he said. Tesla describes its Autopilot as a “suite of driver assistance features” and states that it requires “active driver supervision.”

“NHTSA is aware of the tragic crash involving a Tesla vehicle outside of Houston, Texas,” an spokesperson told TechCrunch. “NHTSA has immediately launched a Special Crash Investigation team to investigate the crash. We are actively engaged with local law enforcement and Tesla to learn more about the details of the crash and will take appropriate steps when we have more information.”

TechCrunch reached out to Tesla for comment and will update the story if the company responds.

#adas, #automotive, #autopilot, #elon-musk, #tc, #tesla, #tesla-model-s, #transportation

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Google veteran pans Tesla Autopilot: “We were doing better in 2010”

Chris Urmson speaks onstage during the 2019 SXSW Conference on March 9, 2019 in Austin.

Enlarge / Chris Urmson speaks onstage during the 2019 SXSW Conference on March 9, 2019 in Austin. (credit: Samantha Burkardt/Getty Images for SXSW)

Few people have been working on self-driving cars longer than Chris Urmson. Urmson played a key role on Carnegie Mellon’s team in all three of DARPA’s famous Grand Challenges between 2004 and 2007. He then led Google’s self-driving project for several years. Urmson left Google after being passed over to become the CEO of the spin-off company that became Waymo.

“I’d been leading and building that team and, for all intents and purposes, general managing it for years,” Urmson told Bloomberg in a Thursday interview. “Of course I wanted to run the program.”

Bloomberg asked Urmson about Tesla’s Autopilot technology—and particularly Elon Musk’s claim that Tesla vehicles will soon be capable of operating as driverless taxis.

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Federal investigators blast Tesla, call for stricter safety standards

Trees blur behind a sleek black crossover as it speeds down a highway.

Enlarge / A Tesla Model X on a highway. (credit: y_carfan / iStock / Getty)

The National Transportation Safety Board has filed comments blasting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its permissive regulation of driver-assistance systems. The letter was dated February 1 but was only spotted by CNBC’s Lora Kolodny on Friday. The letter repeatedly calls out Tesla’s Autopilot for its lax safety practices and calls on NHTSA to establish minimum standards for the industry.

The dispute between federal agencies is the result of Congress dividing responsibility for transportation safety among multiple agencies. NHTSA is the main regulator for highway safety: every car and light truck must comply with rules established by NHTSA. NTSB is a separate agency that just does safety investigations. When there’s a high-profile highway crash, NTSB investigators travel to the scene to figure out what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. NTSB also does plane crashes and train wrecks, allowing it to apply lessons from one mode of transportation to others.

This separation of responsibilities has contributed to a culture gap between the agencies. As the agency responsible for writing regulations, NHTSA has to trade safety off against other considerations like economic costs, the lobbying clout of automakers, and the risk of consumer backlash. In contrast, NTSB’s rulings are purely advisory, which frees the agency to doggedly advocate strong safety measures.

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Tesla: “Full self-driving beta” isn’t designed for full self-driving

Two cars nearly collide in a parking lot.

Enlarge / YouTuber Brandon M captured this drone footage of his Tesla steering toward a parked car using the FSD beta software. “Oh Jeeeesus,” he said as he grabbed the steering wheel. (credit: Brandon M)

The transparency site Plainsite recently published a pair of letters Tesla wrote to the California Department of Motor Vehicles in late 2020. The letters cast doubt on Elon Musk’s optimistic timeline for the development of fully driverless technology.

For years, Elon Musk has been predicting that fully driverless technology is right around the corner. At an April 2019 event, Musk predicted that Teslas would be capable of fully driverless operation—known in industry jargon as “level 5″—by the end of 2020.

“There’s three steps to self-driving,” Musk told Tesla investors at the event. “There’s being feature complete. Then there’s being feature complete to the degree where we think the person in the car does not need to pay attention. And then there’s being at a reliability level where we also convince regulators that that is true.”

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Tesla’s main self-driving rival isn’t Google—it’s Intel’s Mobileye

A man at a podium smiles while holding up a palm-sized computer component.

Enlarge / Mobileye CEO Amnon Shashua shows off a silicon photonics lidar chip slated for introduction in 2025. (credit: Mobileye)

One of the most underrated companies in the self-driving technology sector is Mobileye, an Israeli company that Intel purchased for $15 billion in 2017. Mobileye is the largest supplier of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) that ship with today’s cars. In a Monday interview at the virtual CES conference, Mobileye explained its strategy to stay on top as the industry shifts to fully self-driving vehicles.

Mobileye’s self-driving strategy has a number of things in common with that of Tesla, the world’s most valuable automaker. Like Tesla, Mobileye is aiming to gradually evolve its current driver-assistance technology into a fully self-driving system. So far, neither company has shipped products with the expensive lidar sensors used in many self-driving prototypes.

And like Tesla, Mobileye has access to a wealth of real-world driving data from its customers’ cars. Tesla harvests data directly from Tesla customers. Mobileye has data-sharing agreements with six car companies—including Volkswagen, BMW, and Nissan—that ship Mobileye’s cameras, chips, and software.

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This Arizona college student has taken over 60 driverless Waymo rides

Joel Johnson with a driverless Waymo vehicle.

Enlarge / Joel Johnson with a driverless Waymo vehicle. (credit: Joel Johnson)

Waymo has long kept details about its industry-leading self-driving technology under wraps. The company has done millions of miles of testing in Arizona and California—including thousands of driverless miles with no one behind the wheel. But until last month, almost everyone who experienced those driverless rides was bound by a strict non-disclosure agreement.

In October, Waymo finally pulled back the curtain on its driverless technology. Today customers near the Phoenix suburb of Chandler can hail a fully driverless taxi. They can record rides, publish videos, and talk to reporters about their experiences.

One young Arizonan in particular has leapt at the chance to document the real-world performance of Waymo’s driverless taxis. Joel Johnson is an Arizona State University student who is taking a break from college during the pandemic. He lives near Waymo’s service territory and has been using some of his free time to put Waymo’s driverless taxis through their paces. He says he has taken more than 60 driverless rides in the two months since Waymo opened driverless service up to the public. He has posted more than a dozen videos.

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#autopilot, #cars, #chandler, #joel-johnson, #self-driving-cars, #tesla, #waymo, #waymo-one

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Cop arrests apparently sleeping Tesla driver going 93mph

Frankfurt, Germany - July 12, 2016: Tesla Model S luxury electric sedan.

Enlarge / Frankfurt, Germany – July 12, 2016: Tesla Model S luxury electric sedan. (credit: typhoonski / Getty)

Police in Alberta, Canada, arrested a driver in July who was going 140km/h (87mph) in a Tesla Model S. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced the arrest yesterday.

The officer reported seeing “both front seats completely reclined and both occupants appearing to be asleep.” The car “appeared to be self-driving,” the RCMP says. When the officer turned on his emergency lights, the vehicle sped up to 150km/h (93mph).

Eventually, the RCMP pulled over the 20-year-old driver and charged him with speeding. They later added a dangerous driving charge.

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Tesla’s slow self-driving progress continues with green light warning

High-end automobile infotainment system.

Enlarge / The interior of a Tesla Model X at the Brussels Expo in January 2020. (credit: Sjoerd van der Wal/Getty Images)

Tesla has released a new version of its Autopilot software that adds the ability to read speed limit signs, improving the accuracy of the speed limits displayed on the dashboard. The new version of the software also recognizes when a stoplight turns green. The car will notify the driver but won’t start moving on its own.

Tesla first added the ability to spot stoplights and stop signs back in April. The initial version of the stoplight feature would slow down for a stoplight whether it was red or green. The driver had to signal the car to proceed through the intersection if the light was green—otherwise, the car would stop.

The first version of Autopilot, which was based on technology from Mobileye, included the ability to recognize speed limit signs. But Tesla split with Mobileye in 2016 and began building more of its Autopilot technology in-house. As a result, prior to the latest software update, newer Tesla vehicles displayed speed limits based on a GPS-based database of roadway speed limits.

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Tesla with Autopilot hits cop car—driver admits he was watching a movie

A law enforcement vehicle damaged in Wednesday's crash.

Enlarge / A law enforcement vehicle damaged in Wednesday’s crash. (credit: North Carolina State Highway Patrol)

Police in North Carolina have filed charges against a driver whose Tesla crashed into a police car early Wednesday morning, Raleigh’s CBS 17 television reports. The driver admitted to officers that he had activated the Autopilot technology on his Model S and was watching a movie on his phone at the time of the crash.

“A Nash County deputy and a trooper with the Highway Patrol were on the side of the road while responding to a previous crash when the Tesla slammed into the deputy’s cruiser,” CBS 17 reports. “The impact sent the deputy’s cruiser into the trooper’s vehicle—which pushed the trooper and deputy to the ground.”

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured by the crash.

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Tesla driver blames Autopilot for crash, faces negligent driving charge

A red sedan cruises down a tree-lined highway.

Enlarge / Tesla Model S driving on the freeway in Silicon Valley. (credit: Andrei Stanescu / Getty Images)

A Massachusetts man is facing a negligent-driving charge after his Tesla slammed into a police car that was parked by the side of the road. According to a state trooper, the man had Tesla’s Autopilot technology turned on and said that he “must not have been paying attention.” The crash occurred in December, but the defendant, Nicholas Ciarlone, was only recently charged in the incident.

NBC Channel 10 in Boston reports that the police car was parked on the left-hand side of Route 24, a divided highway in West Bridgewater, a town about an hour south of Boston. The state trooper had just pulled over college student Maria Smith and was asking for her registration paperwork when the Tesla slammed into his SUV.

This caused a pileup, with the police car crashing into the student’s vehicle. The trooper was knocked back against the concrete barrier at the side of the road but was not seriously injured. Smith said she got glass in her hair when the back window shattered. And Smith told NBC 10 that the officer easily could have sustained more serious injuries.

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