Tesla has had its Autopilot system in place for several years. Unfortunately, it is not an “autopilot,” per se. According to Tesla’s own manuals, drivers should never take their attention from the road, even when using the Autopilot. While the Autopilot can handle many driving situations, a fully attentive driver must have their hands on the wheel and be prepared to take over at any moment.
We discussed Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s Super Cruise, and several other semi-automated driving systems in July. We warned that drivers should not assume these systems can be used hands-free. We have not reached full automation.
Now, Tesla has introduced a new product, “Full Self-Driving Capability,” which is a step closer to a fully autonomous, self-driving system. According to Consumer Reports, however, it is still miles away from full autonomy.
Tesla doesn’t claim that Full Self-Driving Capability is fully autonomous, despite the somewhat misleading name. However, the company claims that all its new vehicles will have the hardware necessary for full autonomy. Over time, with software updates, cars with Full Self-Driving Capability may someday become fully autonomous.
What Full Self-Driving Capability actually does is offer some automated features. It can help you park, it can change lanes on the freeway, and it can stop at stop signs and traffic lights.
What it does not do, according to Consumer Reports, is make driving safer or necessarily easier. The new features only work in certain situations and can introduce new errors into your driving.
“Despite the name, the Full Self-Driving Capability suite requires significant driver attention to ensure that these developing-technology features don’t introduce new safety risks to the driver, or other vehicles out on the road,” says the nonprofit rating company.
“Not only that, in our evaluations we determined that several of the features don’t provide much in the way of real benefits to customers, despite the extremely high purchase price” of $8,000 to $10,000.
Full Self-Driving Capability features work inconsistently
Here are a few highlights of what Consumer Reports found in its testing:
The Autopark system has been in service for several years. Sometimes it works great, choosing a suitable parking space and parking there. Other times it would not recognize a spot, even the same spot it had chosen before. And sometimes it didn’t park straight.
The Smart Summon feature allows you to call your car to you within a private parking lot. However, sometimes it drove on the wrong side of the lane and it didn’t always notice stop signs.
Navigate on Autopilot is supposed to allow you to make lane changes and take on- and off-ramps on the freeway without the driver’s input, as long as the destination is pre-programmed into the navigation system. This continued to behave inconsistently, even disengaging at times for no clear reason. It ignored the set route sometimes, other times drove in the carpool lane and stayed in the passing lane for extended periods.
The Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control feature is supposed to stop the vehicle at all stop lights, even when green, unless the driver overrides the system. This could be confusing for some drivers. It also stopped at some non-stopping places, like all of the exits in a traffic circle, and failed to stop at stop signs.
It’s simply not ready for prime time. It’s not yet safe. Do not rely on it. Always, always be ready to take over for the system. This could be a defective product.