British Columbia Video

Driverless Tesla coasting along mall parking lot raises questions, causes confusion

Self-driving car likely activated by new app feature called Smart Summon, which triggers autonomous driving

Posted: November 06, 2019
Last Updated: November 06, 2019

A driverless Tesla was captured on bystander video rolling through the Richmond Centre mall parking lot in Richmond, B.C. (Richmond News)

Video of a driverless Tesla moving at a brisk walking pace at a mall parking lot in Richmond, B.C. — sometimes in the wrong lane — raises questions about what is and isn't legal when regulations don't come close to capturing the advances or potential dangers of self-driving vehicles.

According to a story originally published Monday by the Richmond News, the car was likely activated with Tesla's Smart Summon, which rolled out in Canada on Oct. 11.

The mobile app feature allows a Tesla owner to trigger the vehicle to drive autonomously to their location within a 60-metre radius.

Vancouver lawyer Paul Doroshenko said there are no laws against what he saw in the video and doesn't know what charges would apply if the driverless car ran over someone.


Watch as Tesla car drives itself at the parking lot

"I keep thinking that it's driving without due care and attention," he said. "But are you driving? And how do you prove who the driver is then? And if you pre-program it to do something, are you the driver?"

Doroshenko said there are no regulations to stop Tesla from releasing the Smart Summon software in British Columbia.


Adding to the confusion is a statement from the province's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which said driverless vehicles are banned on provincial roads, despite the growing number of autonomous-capable Teslas being sold in B.C.

"Autonomous and driverless vehicles are not currently permitted on B.C. highways, as reflected by federal regulations. These cars do not currently qualify for insurance, and driving an uninsured vehicle on a highway or roadway is one reason these vehicles are not permitted on B.C. roadways," read the statement. 

It goes on to say that "law enforcement is responsible for enforcing these regulations."

A statement from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) said the driverless car in the Richmond parking lot is "not allowed," even though a search of current ICBC regulations doesn't bring up any specific rules about the operation or registration of a vehicle that is capable of autonomous operation.   

"The driver is responsible for the operation of the vehicle, including when driver assistance is activated,' said ICBC. "In the recent incident in Richmond, thankfully, there was no accident. Had an accident occurred, the vehicle owner's insurance may not have provided coverage."

Both the ministry and ICBC said they are "actively monitoring" the development of autonomous vehicles.

The Ministry of Transportation said it has established a working group to look into the insurance, policy and regulatory implications related to autonomous vehicle operation in B.C. 

At the time of publication, Tesla Canada had not responded to a request for an interview.