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Tesla Drivers Test Autopilot’s Limits, Attracting Audiences—and Safety Concerns


Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk for years has been championing his vehicles’ driver-assistance system called Autopilot and forecasting that self-driving cars are an emerging reality. Some would-be social media stars and Tesla owners can’t seem to wait.

Param Sharma, 25, has posted multiple videos to Instagram in which he appears to operate a Tesla while in the back seat with nobody at the wheel. Police in California arrested Mr. Sharma on May 10 for alleged reckless driving after an officer said he saw him operating a Tesla Model 3 from the back seat on a Bay Area highway.

Similar videos abound on social media, even though Tesla’s technology is intended only as a way to assist drivers, who are instructed to keep their hands on the wheel. Echoing Mr. Musk’s penchant for pushing the envelope, some Tesla drivers over years have created an online-video genre out of testing what’s possible with their vehicles, in some cases appearing to override safety functions to perform stunts that they post to YouTube or TikTok.

One TikTok user shared a video last year that appeared to depict a Tesla going more than 60 miles an hour on a highway with no one in the driver’s seat while its passengers drank hard seltzer and sang along to Justin Bieber. The video, which refers to the car as the designated driver, has 1.7 million likes. The video’s poster didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Tesla’s Autopilot has features designed to make hands-on driving easier and safer by helping with tasks such as steering and maintaining appropriate distance from others on the road. The company tells drivers repeatedly in its user manuals to remain engaged.



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