Tesla Autopilot Safety

Tesla Autopilot Problems Review
Tesla Autopilot Problems Review

I have used different versions of Tesla Autopilot on Philadelphia highways over the past two years or specifically since 2016. The system has always been and still is technologically impressive especially when compared to competition. I am still waiting to find and experience a credible and working competitive autonomous self driving system similar to the Autopilot. Since I first drove Model S with the Autopilot back in 2016, the stable and solid Autopilot’s auto steering on many roads is still a differentiating feature however there are few competitors entering the market who are starting to challenge this status.

The newest update to Tesla Autopilot, Navigate On Autopilot, started to give drivers a feel of how a potential full autonomous driving or self-driving car would handle in real-world driving situations. Tesla has been gradually pushing different enhancements to the Navigate On Autopilot so that drivers would not get overwhelmed. These enhancements carefully upgrade Tesla cars equipped with Enhanced Autopilot and required cameras with more self driving features with every update and attempts to not compromise safety.

While the Navigate On Autopilot is a more advanced autonomous driving system than the previous Autopilot and it allows a modern driver to try some self driving features, the system is still immature, limited and has several problems.

Autopilot Issues in Heavy Highway Traffic

Tesla Autopilot in my Model S is struggling in heavy traffic. The problems occur when traffic starts to suddenly merge from right or left lanes. Autopilot seems to firmly keep the distance set in the distance control which allows a human driver to easily merge in front. If you are driving in the left lane and continue to let anyone to merge in front of you, this quickly creates a back up in the left lane and upsets everyone driving behind you.

Tesla Autopilot Highway Traffic
Tesla Autopilot Highway Traffic

Autopilot tends to quickly accelerate to the preset speed and then suddenly brakes when discovering traffic in front when reached the preset distance. I have tried different distance settings but it does not seem to change this accelerate then brake hard behavior. One of the reasons I love Model S is because I do not need to slam my brakes and instead use regenerative braking as often as I can. I despise brake dust on my rims and prefer to save my brakes. You could say that I have a serious regenerative braking bias. Tesla Autopilot, on the other hand, is supposed to be safer than an average human driver and this is why it generously uses brakes to both slow down and stop.

Is Tesla Autopilot safer than humans? Or, is Autopilot slower to detect and react to real world driving situations especially in traffic?

Please, Tesla, fix Autopilot to use more regenerative braking!

Autopilot does not overtake traffic on the left or right. The system detects the slower traffic in front, changes the lane, but it does not accelerate to overtake instead it accelerates to the preset speed. You end up driving parallel to the traffic that was supposed to be overtaken. Very odd situation occurs.

Autopilot Left Lane Bias

On highways, when Navigate on Autopilot is engaged and allowed to autonomously change lanes, Tesla Autopilot tends to always change to the left lane regardless of the chosen speed and traffic in front. This is quite inconvenient especially if your original intention was to keep the middle lane and relax and let both inpatient and irritated drivers on your left and right pass you by. To stop this left lane turning tendency, I manually have to click on the cancel lane change suggestion in the Navigate On Autopilot menu in the Tesla Touchscreen.

Autopilot Alerts On Every Autonomous Lane Change

On highways, when Navigate on Autopilot is engaged and allowed to autonomously change lanes, Tesla Autopilot always alerts to manually apply pressure on the wheel before initiating any autonomous lane change. Even if I had my hands on the wheel the whole time driving, Autopilot still alerts to apply light pressure on the wheel. As soon as the wheel pressure is applied, Autopilot starts to execute a lane change maneuver. This delays every “autonomous” lane change and makes it effectively a manual Level 2 lane change versus Level 3 automatic.

Tesla Autopilot Automated Driving System Level 2 Alert
Tesla Autopilot Automated Driving System Level 2 Alert

Autopilot Problems on Local Roads

Experience with Tesla Autopilot on local roads is very mixed. First of all, the Navigate On Autopilot feature is now auto enabled but it is does not work on local roads. There is no automatic lane changes or taking exit turns that it can handle on highways. Second, accelerate then quick brake behavior also occurs in local road traffic. Very little regenerative braking is used.

Tesla Autopilot Model S Winding Narrow Road
Tesla Autopilot Model S Winding Narrow Road

Autopilot performs sudden braking even after the incoming traffic crosses the road from the left or right. The braking occurs even though the crossing traffic has cleared your path. This makes me feel that the Autopilot hardware and/or software is too slow to quickly recognize the crossing traffic. By the time the system processes the visual inputs from the road and recognizes that there is an obstacle, the obstacle has passed and cleared the path and later system reacts in the braking action. For most human drivers, it takes a quick glance on the road and decision on how much braking is needed.

Is Tesla Autopilot safer than humans? Or, is Autopilot slower to detect and react to real world driving situations especially in traffic?

Tesla Autopilot seem to be able to handle many local roads especially the ones with the clear lane marks. It is having a hard time with narrow roads and roads that have no lane marks. However, I have encountered some roads where Autopilot is taking very dangerous turns onto the curbs even though the roads do have lane marks. This is where a driver paying attention to the road is imperative.

Tesla Autopilot Self Drive Winding Local Roads
Tesla Autopilot Self Drive Winding Roads

Dangerous situations with Tesla Autopilot also occur on narrow winding roads. I have tried some of them and had to quickly manually take over the driving.

Autopilot Problems with Potholes

Tesla Autopilot does not detect potholes or puddles on the roads. This is especially hurts on the local roads since there is little room to change lanes. There are many roads littered with deep potholes in Philadelphia area especially after Winter snow and ice. I normally quickly disengage the Autopilot to save tires. I understand that making Autopilot to maneuver around the potholes would be hard since there is normally not much room. Still, it would be great to have Autopilot at least shift slightly away from these areas.

Autopilot Needs Improvements

Tesla Autopilot including Navigate On Autopilot is in need of improvement. Tesla Model S Autopilot Section in the manual contains multiple warnings regarding system limitations. The regular “Apply slight turning force to steering wheel” warnings is another reminder to drivers that this system is not fully ready for self driving or full autonomous driving.

In everyday commuting on local roads, I found that Tesla Autopilot is not helpful. It is more work than help. There are many situations where Autopilot is making dangerous decisions which I have to override. The roads rigged with potholes and too narrow and mostly single lane.

On highways with light or medium traffic, Tesla Autopilot is a pleasure to use and is the most useful.

During long highway trips, Tesla Autopilot is great to use and reduces drivers fatigue. I turn on the system when driving to Airport, Shore, and other remote destinations.

On short local roads trips, I would not bother turning on Tesla Autopilot.

The unanswered question for me is: what is causing Tesla Autopilot to brake suddenly? Is this software trained to be conservative and safe? Or is it the slow hardware that I have installed in my Model S?

It is a fact that my Model S 2017 has older and slower hardware and the latest Autopilot software updates require faster hardware. The latest Autopilot computer showcased at Tesla’s Autonomy Day is a prime example of the faster hardware which is more suitable for the latest software.

There is a similar problem with Apple IPhone software updates. Eventually, your old IPhone will contain software that will slow down your phone to a point forcing you to upgrade. I am afraid the situation with Tesla cars will be similar. The software will progress to a point requiring hardware upgrade. Tesla, however, has not been upgrading hardware in the older fleet.

I believe if I had the latest and faster hardware installed, Tesla Autopilot would have been more sensitive and this would reduce the unneeded sudden braking occurrences.

Tesla Model S Autopilot Dark
Tesla Model S Autopilot Dark

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Tesla Autopilot Safety
Tesla Autopilot Safety
Is Tesla Autopilot good and safe to use on local roads, highway traffic, bad weather and snow? My personal driving experience with Tesla Autopilot is positive but it also reveals few problems with auto lane change, regenerative braking, and left lane bias on highways and instability on local roads.

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