As first appeared in Boston Herald
By Aron Solomon
A human owning what they perceive to be a self-driving car will imagine many scenarios that are best left in their mind.
One that never should have seen the light of day just did.
A cat “driving” a Tesla across the Golden Gate Bridge made its way around social media last week, yet another example of why we can’t have nice things.
In all seriousness, current or future Tesla owners, please don’t do this.
First, it’s a pretty safe bet that whatever your home jurisdiction is, this violates the terms and conditions of your driver’s license. You almost certainly can’t have a housecat as your proxy behind the wheel for obvious reasons.
Second, if your insurance company saw this, they would be unhappy. Probably very unhappy. They would be wise to drop you but would probably just give your rates a healthy hike.
Finally and most importantly, having your cat “drive” your car is illegal.
California Vehicle Code 23103 is California’s law on “reckless driving.” In this statute, it is a criminal offense if you drive with a wanton disregard for the safety of people or property. Given that the “you” in issue here is actually you and not your housecat, gerbil, German Shepherd, or anything else you ill-advisedly put behind the steering wheel, you will be criminally liable if you do this.
Reckless driving is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine, driver’s license points, and up to 90 days in jail. It would be difficult to imagine why any judge wouldn’t go to the max with any penalty against the owner of a cat-driven Tesla.
The real practical question here is whether it makes sense for anyone to have this much trust in a self-driving car. The answer is almost certainly not.
A Guardian report last year highlighted Tesla’s self-driving failure in identifying children on a road. In December, the LA Times reported that Tesla no longer reports their autopilot safety numbers online. And in 2021, Road and Track reported that Tesla’s “full self-driving” beta tests were “laughably bad.”
In very closely related Tesla news last week, a New Jersey man claims that the steering wheel fell off his brand-new Tesla as he was driving it. Some observers on social media also commented that had the airbag deployed in this viral video, the “driving” cat would have likely been killed.
New Jersey lawyer Krenar Camili makes a critically important observation for every Tesla owner:
“Because full self-driving technology is still new, everyone who is legally in control of their self-driving car needs to be fully aware of their legal responsibilities, risks and potential liability.”
While this video was filmed with the hope that it would become a social media meme, it blurs the line between what self-driving technologies can do in reality and perhaps your feline fantasies. There actually are people who would see a video such as this and think that maybe a cat can drive a car on cruise control – or people who have a Tesla but haven’t spent the time to understand self-driving and its limitations.
Understand that anytime you get in a car, whether you’re driving it yourself or engaging with the car’s more advanced technological features, the law is going to hold you responsible for what happens.
About Aron Solomon
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the chief legal analyst for Esquire Digital. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, Crunchbase, Variety, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.