A British man who switched on his Tesla's Autopilot before moving to the passenger seat while travelling along a motorway has been banned from driving for 18 months.

Hertfordshire police said Bhavesh Patel, 39, of Nottingham, pleaded guilty to dangerous driving at St Albans Crown Court.

The court heard that, in May 2017, Patel was driving his white S 60 along the northbound carriageway of the M1, between junctions 8 and 9 near Hemel Hempstead.

While the car was in motion, he chose to switch on the 'supercar's' autopilot function before moving across to the passenger seat and leaving the steering wheel and foot controls completely unmanned.

A witness noticed Patel, who had owned the car for a maximum of five months at the time of the incident, seated in the passenger seat of the vehicle.

No one could be seen in the driver's seat and Patel appeared to have his hands behind his head.

The witness, who was a passenger in another car, filmed Patel as the car drove past.Witness accounts state that traffic was heavy due to congestion and it has been estimated that the vehicle was travelling at approximately 40mph at the time.

Footage of the incident was first posted on social media before it was reported to police and a Notice of Intended Prosecution was then sent to Patel by mail. He was later interviewed by officers at Stevenage police station.

He admitted to them that he knew what he had done was 'silly' but the car was capable of something 'amazing' and that he was just the 'unlucky one who got caught'.

As part of the investigation, officers obtained a statement from a Tesla engineer who described autopilot as a 'suite of driver assistance features'.

They stated that these are hands-on features intended to provide assistance to a 'fully-attentive driver'. Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC) assists with acceleration and deceleration of the vehicle whilst Autosteer provides assistance with steering of the vehicle.

Further literature provided by Tesla states that drivers should 'never depend on TACC to adequately slow down model S, always watch the road in front of you and be prepared to take corrective action at all times. Failure to do so can result in serious injury or death'.

A police spokesman said: "What Patel did was grossly irresponsible and could have easily ended in tragedy. He not only endangered his own life but the lives of other innocent people using the motorway on that day.

"This case should serve as an example to all drivers who have access to autopilot controls and have thought about attempting something similar. I want to stress that they are in no way a substitute for a competent motorist in the driving seat who can react appropriately to the road ahead."

The unfortunate Patel was also given 100 hours unpaid work, ordered to carry out 10 days rehabilitation and pay GBP1,800 (US$2,480) in court costs.

So far, two drivers have died in Autopilot-engaged Tesla cars in the US - one in a Model S in Florida in 2016 and the other in a Model X in California last month.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded the Florida crash had not resulted from a flaw in the car but decided Autopilot lacked safeguards to prevent misuse.

What was believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology also occurred in March 2018 when a Volvo refitted for Uber autonomous operation, and which had an emergency backup driver at the wheel, struck and killed a woman on a street in Tempe, Arizona.

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