Man Riding in Driverless Tesla Is Arrested in California

Param Sharma, 25, was arrested on charges of reckless driving. “I’m about to go in the back seat right now,” he said after being released from jail.

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A California man seen traveling in the back seat of a driverless Tesla was arrested in the Bay Area, the authorities said on Tuesday, following a call on social media to report similar behavior to the police.

The man, Param Sharma, 25, was arrested on misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and disobeying a peace officer, the California Highway Patrol said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Highway Patrol said that police officers responded at about 6:35 p.m. on Monday after 911 dispatchers received calls about a Tesla Model 3 with no one in the driver’s seat traveling east on Interstate 80 across the Bay Bridge.

A highway patrol officer at the bridge’s toll plaza spotted the Tesla “with its sole occupant in the back seat,” according to the Highway Patrol.

While trying to pull the car over, the officer saw the passenger move into the driver’s seat. The occupant then stopped the Tesla on the shoulder of Interstate 80 and Mr. Sharma was arrested, the police said.

Mr. Sharma was booked into Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, and the Tesla was towed from the scene as evidence. Mr. Sharma did not respond to a request for comment on his case on Wednesday.

It is illegal in California for an autonomous vehicle to operate without a person behind the wheel, said Officer John Fransen, a spokesman for the highway patrol.

“We want people to recognize the fact the driving is an immense responsibility,” he said. “It’s not having distractions. It’s not playing around with the technology.”

After his release from jail, Mr. Sharma insisted to the news station KTVU that his use of the car was not dangerous, and said that he would not change his behavior.

“I’m about to go in the back seat right now. You feel me? Like, I’m waiting for my car to charge,” Mr. Sharma told the station.

A man who appears to be Mr. Sharma on Instagram posted a video of himself sitting in the back seat of a moving Tesla with his foot on the steering wheel. In the video, posted Tuesday, a device is visible showing the headline: “Man seen riding in the back seat of Tesla with no driver.”

Mr. Sharma also praised the chief executive of Tesla, Elon Musk, telling KTVU that he “really knows what he’s doing and I think people are just tripping and they’re scared.”

Before the arrest, Bay Area residents had also captured video of someone who resembled Mr. Sharma using a driverless car in “the same reckless manner,” the Highway Patrol said. Mr. Sharma had been cited on April 27 for similar behavior by the agency’s Oakland area division.

On Saturday, the Highway Patrol posted on social media that it “has been made aware of an incident involving a man riding in the back seat of a Tesla traveling on Bay Area roadways, with no other person being seated in the driver’s seat.”

The post featured two photos of the driverless car with a smiling man visible in the back.

The Highway Patrol asked people to immediately call 911 if they saw “an unusual incident such as this one.”

The department was looking into whether the man in those images was Mr. Sharma, said Officer Fransen.

Tesla and Mr. Musk have argued that the company’s Autopilot system makes its cars safer than other vehicles, even as the technology and the ways drivers use it come under greater scrutiny. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

In April, two men were killed north of Houston after a Tesla they were in crashed and caught fire with neither of them behind the wheel, the authorities said.

Mark Herman, a constable in Harris County Precinct 4, said last month that physical evidence from the scene and interviews with witnesses led officials to believe “no one was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash.”

In April, Consumer Reports said that its engineers had “easily tricked” a Tesla Model Y “so that it could drive on Autopilot, the automaker’s driver assistance feature, without anyone in the driver’s seat.” The publication said that during trips on its half-mile closed test track, the vehicle “steered along painted lane lines, but the system did not send out a warning or indicate in any way that the driver’s seat was empty.”

In March, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that it was investigating nearly two dozen crashes involving Teslas that either were, or may have been, using the automatic steering and braking technology.

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