‘Working while on Autopilot’: Dutch Tesla driver to court (update)
Vincent Everts, Dutch trendwatcher and ‘Tesla evangelist’ got fined twice while he was ‘working on his smartphone’ with his hands off the steering wheel of his Tesla, driving on Autopilot. He is contesting the fines on Thursday before the Utrecht court, arguing he is ‘supervisor’ and not a ‘driver’ when the car drives semi-automatically. Verdict is expected on November 22.
At the court on Thursday, the public prosecutor didn’t seem to be impressed by that argument and pleaded that “there is no doubt about who is the driver: it’s the person who holds the power over the car” .
This could become a case of jurisprudence for more trials to come when more semi-automatic self-driving cars appear on the roads. Everts is hoping on an acquittal by the judge to prove today’s traffic regulations are getting outdated on the verge of the autonomous car.
But in an earlier similar case, a Dutch court already judged in appeal in a similar case that “the Autopilot always requires a person that defines where the car is going and who can intervene in emergency situations and that person is to be qualified as the driver”.
On Autopilot on highway
The ‘facts’ date from October 10th and 16th of last year. Everts was driving on the A2 highway when the police spotted him holding a smartphone in his hand. In the Netherlands simply holding the smartphone while driving is an infringement punished with a 250 euro fine at least.
“I’m driving some 50.000 km a year”, Everts says, “and when on the highway I always use my Tesla’s Autopilot. This way I can work on my smartphone 600 to 800 hours while I’m in the car.” He is convinced it is completely safe to do so.
Driving without swaying
“According to the police I was driving safely and wasn’t swaying“, Everts argues. Helped by traffic lawyer, Axel Mille, he wants to defend his case before court, stating he should be treated as a ‘supervisor’, like a driving instructor in some way, as he wasn’t the actual ‘driver’. The car was.
“The system asks me to touch the wheel every minute. I’m using the Autopilot in a very responsible way”, Everts says. “I hope to prove that driving with Tesla’s Autopilot is seven times safer than driving with my hands on the wheel.”
Accident rate 1/7th
Everts is convinced – like Elon Musk – media coverage of crashes with Tesla vehicles, in which some people got killed, is largely overblown. He refers to Tesla’s Q3 Vechicle Safety Report, stating that Tesla vehicles have accidents at about 1/7 the rate of normal vehicles while on Autopilot. When humans are driving the Teslas themselves, the rate is 1/4.
The man is realistic enough to know he can’t have the law changed overnight but, as he told the reporter of Dutch internet tv channel powned.tv, he wants to ‘needle’ the judge to make a statement to get things changing in the future. After that, he is “willing to pay the fines with great pleasure”.