A couple days ago, a San Francisco man got himself arrested for driving around in a Tesla Model 3. Unlike most of us who would get pulled over for speeding (hey, it’s a fun car and it’s quick), Param Sharma got into trouble for turning on Autopilot and climbing into the back. The problem? He’s been doing this for months, had a run-in with law enforcement for this before, and started doing it again as soon as he got out of jail.
For those unfamiliar, Autopilot is only a driver-assist feature that most Tesla vehicles have. It maintains speed, stops for vehicles or objects in front of it (usually), and holds the car in the center of its lane. It’s not a perfect system, and isn’t safe to operate without constant driver attention. If it makes a mistake, you have to be ready to be able to take over quickly, so sitting in the back is quite dangerous (and illegal).
Before we get into what law enforcement is doing wrong here, let’s talk a bit about the Autopilot abuse we’ve been seeing from this guy in the past.
He Appears To Be Controversial Internet Personality “Lavish P.,” Who Has A History Of Doing This
A number of websites say he’s YouTube’s controversial “Lavish P.”, a man who likes to flaunt wealth on his YouTube channel. He’s known for referring to people who can’t afford luxury goods as “peasants,” and is proud of driving a Tesla without a driver. Subsequent media interviews (more on this below) make it pretty clear that he’s the same guy who made these videos:
He claims to own several 2021 Teslas, but claims that the Model 3 is the only one that gives him a good screen to look at while he abuses Autopilot and rides in the back. In this video and others, he’s always talking about how he’s better than the “Blue Collars” who do their own driving. He also claims that he once had a chauffeur who drove his Rolls Royce, but that the guy had gas and didn’t get along with him. “Computers don’t fart, bruh,” he said.
In another video, we see how he’s doing what he does. While he claims to have the Full Self Driving Beta (FSD Beta), the visualizations on his screen are not consistent with the FSD Beta’s. He has the driver’s seatbelt buckled without him in the seat, and he occasionally leans into the front to wiggle the steering wheel and prevent “nag” from stopping him.
He Got A Citation (Without Arrest) For This In April
The California Highway Patrol (CHP) told the San Francisco Chronicle that they found him doing this in April. At the time, they gave him a ticket for illegally misusing the feature.
People who know Autopilot’s limitations know how dangerous this is, as it could not only kill the driver, but other people on or near the road. Autopilot isn’t inherently dangerous, of course, but it can make big mistakes at just the wrong time. If someone isn’t there to steer and take control of the pedals, disaster can strike. Most of us who are familiar with the system think it’s arrest-worthy on the first offense, like with this guy in Florida who sat on top of his car while a Cadillac feature kept the vehicle between the lines. [Editor’s note: As someone with the same version of Tesla Autopilot, I can’t imagine trying to pull such a stunt. It could end very badly very easily.]
That CHP decided to let the guy go with a ticket he could contest in court or just pay shows that they didn’t take this very seriously.
He Did It Again Immediately After Posting Bail, And Is Still Doing It
After getting out of jail, Sharma gave KTVU an interview, in which he expressed that he thought it was perfectly acceptable to abuse Autopilot like this.
He told the reporter that his next court date is July 6th, and that he plans to keep climbing into the back until at least then. He says he always drives a route in the front seat first to make sure it works well before riding in the back, and that he’s been “brake checked before really hard” without a collision, so therefore it must be safe to do what he does.
“Elon Musk really knows what he’s doing, and I think people are just tripping, and they’re scared of the future,” he said, before vowing to never stop abusing the feature. “I paid ten thousand for the Full Self Driving Feature, and it does what it’s designed to do….”
He didn’t stop there, though. The next day, he showed off his “self driving” Tesla for KTVU. He claims that he bought a brand new one to replace the one that was stuck in impound, but note that the Model 3 doesn’t have temp tags.
This guy can’t be for real. Less than 24 hours after being arrested, he shows up to be filmed by a local news crew doing the exact same thing that got him arrested.
His arrogance is astounding 🤯🤬 pic.twitter.com/gu3Dn9LGuz
— Drive Tesla 🇨🇦 (@DriveTeslaca) May 13, 2021
So, he’s not only continuing to do this, but he’s doing it on TV, and nobody is stopping him.
Law Enforcement Isn’t Taking This As Seriously As They Should
If I took a walk in San Francisco with my rifle, even safely slung from my shoulder and not pointed at anybody, you can bet that within minutes I’d face a swarm of law enforcement officers who would quickly arrest me, and I’d be lucky to not get shot by them. California and San Francisco take this perceived danger to the public extremely seriously — in fact, so seriously that they’d even arrest me for possessing it in an apartment (assuming I rented one there — I don’t). Mere possession of an unloaded “assault weapon,” even secured in a gun safe, is intolerable to California authorities, because I could hypothetically hurt people with it. It’s that big of a deal to them because they don’t want people getting killed.
But when Param Sharma did something far more dangerous, the automotive equivalent to pointing a loaded gun at strangers on the street, he got a citation for the first offense. For the second offense, he got arrested, but got out within hours. Now, he continues to do it, even on television, and he’s still a free man. He could be doing it right now, with no further consequences.
I’m not trying to beat up California for their harsh gun laws here. I get it. Guns frighten people and some people really do misuse them, so it’s not a completely unfounded fear people have. There’s at least some logic in play there. I just wanted to illustrate what it looks like when they take an issue seriously, so we can compare it to this situation.
What completely and totally baffles my mind here is that they’d be so easygoing when a person presents a much greater threat to public safety. One Autopilot or camera malfunction, and he could kill dozens of people on the freeway. He could end up sending 4,000 pounds of steel, aluminum, and batteries through some kids’ bedrooms before he could climb back up front. One small computer error and he could run down dozens of pedestrians before he even has a chance to react.
We know that the software isn’t ready to run without human supervision, and that it will eventually surprise him with a malfunction. It really is more dangerous than someone randomly firing a gun in the city would be, and he’s out on bail continuing to do it and brag about it on TV.
Does that seem right to you?
It makes ZERO sense for safety advocates and public officials to engage in hand-wringing about the safety of Autopilot, and try to blame Tesla for this, when authorities seem almost completely unwilling to punish the people who willfully abuse the product and endanger the public with it. If this continues, expect dozens or hundreds of other people to do this because they think they can get away with it like Sharma does.
When that happens, it won’t be Tesla’s fault. It will lay squarely at the feet of a broken criminal justice system with its priorities completely out of whack.
Featured image: screenshot from the “Lavish P.” YouTube Channel.
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