We really need to establish some kind of etiquette for Tesla owners, and for the people who use them to make money as Uber drivers in particular.
Surprisingly, I’m not suggesting that we ban them from talking about how wonderful their cars are, how it’s actually great not being able to see the speedometer in front of their eyes while driving, nor even rambling on about how Elon Musk isn’t actually a goggle-eyed homunculus megalomaniac, he’s just a naughty little genius.
No, while all of those are certainly valid points for discussion, the most urgent area for etiquette establishment involves the use of Tesla’s Autopilot; an allegedly autonomous driving system that has, occasionally and unfortunately, killed people.
Now, personally, I’ve tried to use Autopilot a few times, not so much out of morbid curiosity as a feeling of being professionally compelled to do so. I have not loved it, nor felt entirely safe while doing it, but I won’t talk about that now, because every time I do I get angry emails from the people at Tesla who tell me that I agreed to being a beta-testing agent for the system, apparently, and that therefore I have no right to complain, or criticise.
It’s not often that I hear about something scary and weird happening to someone else and wish it had happened to me, but a friend of mine recently relayed – looking slightly scarred and definitely scared – the tale of his Tesla Uber trip to Sydney Airport.
About 10 minutes into the journey, he said, the driver, without asking his passenger or even mentioning his intention, switched the vehicle’s Autopilot on. My friend, who didn’t say anything, partly because he couldn’t quite believe what was happening and partly because he’s Australian and not American, says the driver then took both of his hands off the steering wheel and started cleaning his glasses.
While Autopilot did the driving for him he proceeded to fiddle and fart around in this manner (my mate described him as “a full-on geeky kind of guy” – sounds like a typical Tesla driver then – “with a pair of roller blades in the boot, I could imagine him skating around singing the theme to Xanadu on his way to a Dungeons and Dragons night”) pretty much all the way to the destination, where he was then paid, via the Uber app, the same amount as a driver who’d actually done the driving.
This opens so many cans of worms that you can probably smell this column through your screen. Is this acceptable (no), should it be allowed (Hell no), and should the driver have to ask his passenger before choosing to take the rest of the afternoon off and put the Autopilot on (absolutely).
Now, I recently took a trip in a fully autonomous vehicle in San Francisco and I have to say I found that less weird or scary than I would have done if a human Uber driver attempted to go Autopilot on me, a point at which I would have quite a lot to say.
This also makes me wonder if you’re in a Tesla with a friend and he decides to show off his Autopilot to you, are you allowed to shout at him and tell him to stop? Fortunately, I’ll never know, as I don’t have friends who drive Teslas (associates, yes, but not my real friends).
Frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t become a matter for discussion already, but I think something needs to be done, and now. If we don’t act quickly on matters of etiquette, as we didn’t with mobile phones, we reach the situation where friends and colleagues find it acceptable to pull their devices out during social occasions, or even at a dinner table, and rudely ignore you. We can’t let Tesla owners, or Uber driver go the same way.