Two juveniles in Palm Coast, Florida are in hot water after reportedly taking a joy ride in a rented Tesla and allowing it to crash into a police car. And as if driving without a license wasn’t enough, the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office reports that the vehicle was also missing something else entirely when they approached it: a person in the driver’s seat.
According to the sheriff’s office, an on-duty deputy attempted to conduct a traffic stop on a 2018 Tesla Model 3 last Friday. He observed the vehicle exiting a Wawa gas station just before 10 p.m. and begin traveling on the wrong side of the road. The car came to a stop and then proceeded to back into the officer’s patrol car, causing $300 worth of damage to the Tesla.
The officer exited his vehicle and made contact with the occupants—two female juveniles aged 14 and 15—who were allegedly seated in the front passenger seat and the back seat when he arrived. To be abundantly clear, there were no occupants in the driver’s seat when the deputy made contact with the teens, according to the police report.
The teens reportedly told the officer that the Tesla was “driving itself in Autopilot mode” when it had backed into the patrol car. After some questioning, both teens claimed no one was in the driver’s seat after engaging Autopilot. However, one of the juveniles later changed their story and said her friend only hopped in the back seat after the vehicle drove into the wrong lane.
Either way, blaming Tesla’s Level 2 driving aid doesn’t seem like a likely excuse given that Autopilot typically operates in a forward-looking direction. A Tesla forum post from 2019 may explain what happened: the car could have been accidentally placed into reverse when attempting to disengage Autopilot.
The Autopilot controls on the Model 3 and Model Y are located on the gear selector stalk to the right of the steering column. Assuming the juveniles are telling the truth, it’s possible that the teen controlling the Tesla’s functions attempted to press up on the drive stalk to turn off Autopilot and instead of placing the vehicle in park, mistakenly pressed the stalk upwards twice and placed the car into reverse.
The Drive remains unable to reach out to Tesla to confirm whether or not the teen’s claims of the car being operated on Autopilot were true, as the automaker had previously dissolved its PR department.
What’s more, the teens had reportedly been driving for more than 300 miles. Police told The Drive that the teens had rented the vehicle using the car sharing app Turo and had it delivered to one of their homes in Charleston, South Carolina. The teens had made it to Palm Coast, Florida while on their way to visit one of the their fathers. When police contacted the mother of the teen driving the car, she indicated that she was not aware that her daughter had left the state, and the other allegedly provided false parental information to officers.
Police cited one of the teens for driving without a license, because there’s no such thing as a self-driving production car, and placed both minors in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families until the parents could pick them up. The officer’s report provided to The Drive also indicates a confiscated a bottle of pepper spray and a “plastic bag of green leafy substance” that was identified to be marijuana.
“These kids are very lucky that no one was hurt and their actions didn’t have more serious consequences,” said Sheriff Rick Staly in a statement. “It doesn’t matter if you are driving a ‘smart car,’ driving without a license is still against the law. I hope these kids have learned a valuable lesson and I am grateful that no one was hurt and only minimal damage occurred to their vehicle.”
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