Man arrested for riding in back of driverless Tesla on autopilot gets out of jail

A 25-year-old man was arrested after he was seen riding in the back seat of a Tesla with no one in the driver's seat.

Param Sharma was arrested Monday evening by California Highway Patrol on two counts of reckless driving and disobeying a peace officer. 

Sharma spent the night in Santa Rita Jail. By Tuesday evening he was out. He gave KTVU an interview where he said his driving isn't dangerous and boasted that he got home by doing what we've come to know him for: riding in the backseat of a car. He said he made the trip in a friend’s self-driving Tesla, while the pair sat in the back.

Sharma remained unflinching in his attitude about sitting in the backseat while his Tesla drives itself on autopilot.

"I’m gonna go in the back seat right now. You feel me? I’m waiting for my car to charge," Sharma told KTVU in an exclusive interview. 

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Sharma said his antics behind the wheel are not to show off, but to show self-driving vehicles are not only the future, but the present as well.

Monday, someone recorded cellphone video of Sharma in his Tesla on Interstate 80, with no human behind the wheel, as required by California law.

"It’s just so dangerous. Cars are dangerous when they’re being driven by humans and they’re dangerous when they’re driven by robots that haven’t been certified," said Nick Josefowitz, chief of policy for SPUR.

California Highway Patrol investigators said the driverless Tesla was on the highway in medium to heavy traffic.

Param Sharma

Param Sharma is seen in this booking photo from the Santa Rita jail where he was held for riding in the backseat of a driverless Tesla

The vehicle was traveling eastbound on I-80 across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge toward Oakland.

Sharma said he’s driven 40,000 miles on Bay Area roadways over the past few years, sometimes in Teslas with tinted back windows. He’s posted videos on Instagram as "GoldCollarLavish." Based on a written response from Sharma, he apparently had no fear of law enforcement.

He said driving – or not driving -- but riding in such a manner isn’t dangerous.

"I’ve been brake-checked before really hard, and the car stopped. The car came to a complete stop. Elon Musk really knows what he’s doing and I think people are tripping and they're scared," he said.

Tesla is still developing Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles.

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There have been several, high-profile fatal accidents involving Tesla’s self-driving mode, including one in Mountain View in March of 2018. The car’s sensors were confused by construction markings on the roadway, and piloted the vehicle into an abutment, killing the driver.

"The autopilot is imperfect in many ways. But one of the things that could go wrong is a road hazard. He could have some debris on the road. A dog could run in front of the car. A mattress could be on the freeway. Anything is possible," said tech expert Larry Magid.

Many Tesla owners agree, putting lives fully in the hands of self-driving technology is a dangerous gambit.

"Technology is not there yet. And being a Tesla owner, there’s still a lot of unknowns to take that risk or even consider it at this time," said David McPherson, a South Bay resident who has owned his Tesla for five years.

Authorities said Sharma was cited on April 27 for similar behavior.

Sharma is due back in court July 6. He said he will continue riding in the backseat with no driver behind the wheel, and by mid-2022, everyone will be doing the same.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated that Tesla had introduced Level 5 autonomous technology. That level is still under development.