A video of a driverless Tesla making its way through a Richmond parking lot is raising safety questions.
The footage, shot Monday and initially published by the Richmond News, shows a white, unoccupied Tesla hesitantly driving through the parking lot of Richmond Centre.
For most of the video, the car is driving on the wrong side of the road, and at one point another vehicle pulls up and passes it.
It was not immediately clear who was controlling the vehicle.
Tesla recently launched a feature for its vehicles called “Smart Summon,” which the company says is a part of “Full Self-Driving Capability” or “Enhanced Autopilot” feature packages.
According to the company, users can push a button in the Tesla app, directing the vehicle “to navigate a parking lot and come to them or their destination of choice, as long as their car is within their line of sight.”
But various media reports since the September launch have suggested it is causing “chaos” and “havoc” in U.S. parking lots, and in at least one case, nearly causing an accident.
In a tweet at the end of September, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the feature was “improving rapidly.”
Using the self-driving feature of a vehicle is illegal in British Columbia.
ICBC says not only do provincial laws not permit the vehicles’ use on B.C. roads, it also says the driver is responsible for the vehicle’s actions when driver assistance is turned on.
What’s more, it said if there had been an accident, the owner’s insurance might not have covered it.
Kyla Lee, a lawyer with Acumen Law, said it would be difficult for police to charge the vehicle’s owner with dangerous driving, since proving they were operating it intentionally would be difficult.
But she said the Motor Vehicle Act still has a provision to make the owner liable for anything the vehicle does.
“So the police will have to rely on provision under the Motor Vehicle Act to ticket the owner rather than the driver,” she said.’
“This would mean that the ticket doesn’t have any points, but there would still be fines associated with it.”
Lawrence Fank, a professor with UBC’s School of Public Health, said even if autonomous vehicles aren’t normal — or legal — yet, the public will need to get used to seeing them on the road in the future.
He said policymakers are already thinking about how to accommodate the vehicles, but that introducing them will still be a challenge.
“The technology is there for a car to be able to do that,” he said.
“The question is, when you first introduce something brand new to society that’s so foreign, there needs to be a lot of thought about how the technology is introduced.”
He said self-driving cars will come with both benefits and social challenges. He said they will likely be much safer than human-operated cars, and will give people more free time — but could result in more congestion and less green transportation.
And he said at first, they’ll still be turning heads like that Tesla in Richmond.
“No matter what we do, there’s going to be a lot of reaction and a lot of surprise.”
-With files from Grace Ke