Tesla is officially in Malaysia, but letting its EVs fully self-drive may land you up to 5-year jail, RM15k fine

Malaysia made a marquee move into the electric vehicle (EV) market after Elon Musk’s Tesla Inc officially began operations in our country last month. Furthermore, the company’s investment in Malaysia made headlines worldwide, showcasing our nation’s intention to promote low-carbon mobility, support the EV industry and boost economic growth. 

Indeed, the arrival of Tesla also means that the nationwide EV charging infrastructure would be dramatically improved, thanks in part to the company’s commitment to setting up a vast network of fast charging and regular charging stations nationwide. On the federal government’s part, Natural Resources, Environment and Climate Change Minister Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad previously asserted that our country is aiming to install 10,000 EV charging points by 2025.

Under Section 2 of the Road Transport Act 1987, EV or as the legislation calls it, an electric motor vehicle is defined as any motor vehicle propelled by electrical means and does not include a micromobility vehicle. Of course, Tesla vehicles are well-known for being more just than EVs, but are also distinguished for their autonomous-driving capabilities.

In relation to this, one misconception that some Malaysians may have about the company officially setting up shop in our country is that Tesla EV owners just let their cars self-drive if they own them. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. In fact, letting go of the steering wheel of your Tesla EV or any other vehicle with autonomous-driving capabilities is not only dangerous but may land you up to 5-year jail or an RM15,000 fine or both.

So, why is this so? Well, join us as we navigate through the relevant laws and regulations on the matter below.

Rule 17 of the Road Traffic Rules 1959 (L.N. 166/1959)

It is important to note that Tesla’s Autopilot feature is not actually a “full self-driving” system in its own right as it still requires driver supervision. While you can technically release your hand from the steering and let it go on, well, autopilot, Tesla’s own literature for the system states that the driver must have their hands on the steering wheel at all times.

There were actually a couple of recent examples of Tesla EV owners letting the car drive on its own, both of which attracted scrutiny from the police. One was of a Singaporean couple driving on autopilot from the Republic all the way to Penang and the other was of a local celebrity and her partner, who was seen sleeping while letting his Tesla autopilot on the road.

Based on these previous instances, the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) has essentially declared full autopilot of cars is not allowed in Malaysia, as there are considered offences under the Road Traffic Rules (L.N. 166/1959). Specifically, it is an offence under Rule 17 of the Road Traffic Rules below:

Fully using a car’s autopilot system without your hands on the steering wheel would mean that you can’t have proper control over the vehicle and can’t by means of hand signals or direction indicators give signals to traffic to the rear of the vehicle, hence it is considered an offence under the provision. Should the driver take it a step further and blatantly doze off while letting the car self-drive, it is a clear violation of Rule 10 of the Road Traffic Rules which prescribes,

“No driver of a vehicle moving along a road shall sleep or otherwise neglect to exercise due control over the movements of the vehicle.”

Accordingly, those who committed an offence under Rule 10 and Rule 17 of the Road Traffic Rules will face a penalty under Section 119 of the Road Transport Act 1987 below:

For first offenders, they face a fine of up to RM2,000 or 6 months in jail. Furthermore, should it be their second or subsequent conviction, they face a fine of up to RM4,000 or imprisonment of up to 12 months or both.

Section 42 of the Road Transport Act 1987

Besides that, letting your car go fully on autopilot might get you subjected to Section 42(1) of the Road Transport Act for reckless and dangerous driving. According to the provision, an individual is considered to have committed an offence of reckless and dangerous driving if they drive a motor vehicle on the road recklessly or at speed or in a manner which having regard to all the circumstances (including the nature, condition and size of the road and the amount of traffic which is or might be expected to be on the road) is dangerous to the public.

Upon conviction, the offender faces up to 5-year jail and a fine between RM5,000 to RM15,000. Moreover, if the offence is the second or subsequent conviction, the punishment is increased to up to 10-year jail and to a fine between RM10,000 to RM20,000. Besides that, any person convicted under this provision shall be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a period of up to 5 years from the date of conviction.

Furthermore, for the second or subsequent conviction, the disqualification would be a period of 10 years from the date of conviction.

Meanwhile, a holder of a probationary driving licence that is convicted under Section 42 of Act 333 shall have their driving licence revoked by the court.

Hence, if you plan to get yourself a Tesla EV or any other vehicle with autonomous-driving capabilities, do make sure to adhere to the traffic laws and regulations of our country.  While current technology is definitely helpful to drivers, it doesn’t mean that drivers can completely take their hands off the steering wheel and mistakenly think that the system can automatically and safely control the car.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time for legislatures to look into amending existing laws and regulations or introduce new legislation or rules pertaining to EVs and autonomous-driving in our country to suit the federal government’s initiative in promoting EVs and reduce our nation’s carbon footprint.

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