Recently, Bloomberg conducted a survey of 5,000 Tesla Model 3 owners to find out what they like and don’t like about their cars. Part 1 dealt with quality issues while part 2 focused on service and charging. Part 3 hones in on the experiences those Tesla owners have had with Autopilot, both the basic system and the Full Self Driving package that now includes the Smart Summon feature. Not everyone has had positive experiences, with some drivers reporting instances when their cars slowed unexpectedly, but overall, 90% of respondents said they feel safer with Autopilot available.
Here’s an example: A driver from Florida (not one of the yahoos above) reported he felt something had gone wrong with his car when it suddenly slowed while driving on the highway. He didn’t understand at first that his car had detected a stopped vehicle in front of the car he was following. When the car ahead swerved out of the way, his Tesla had already reduced his speed enough that he could easily avoid slamming into the stopped vehicle. [Editor’s note: I’ve experienced this type of thing a few times, but not to such an extreme degree.] Others report sudden braking for no apparent reason — what is known as a false positive — that put them in danger of being rear ended by cars behind them. But even those drivers said, overall, Autopilot makes them safer while driving.
Overall, 13% of drivers say Autopilot has put them in a dangerous situation, while 28% say Autopilot has saved them from being in harm’s way. Based on the responses to the survey, Bloomberg says, “These Autopilot stories illustrate the messy middle ground in which the automotive world now finds itself. Ever-vigilant vehicles running automated-driving technology can perform superhuman maneuvers to keep drivers safe—and can also fail in decidedly sub-human ways. Close supervision is needed at all times (emphasis added), which is easy to forget when Autopilot is able to drive for long stretches without intervention.”
Six Tesla owners claimed that Autopilot contributed to a collision, while nine credited Autopilot with saving their lives. Even though hundreds of owners experienced glitches such as phantom braking, unexpected steering maneuvers, or failing to stop for a road hazard, the overwhelming majority of people in that group still gave Autopilot high marks overall.
Here is a sampling of some of the comments from people who responded to the survey:
- “The car detected a pile-up in fog and applied the brakes/alerted driver and began a lane change to avoid it before I took over. I believe it saved my life.”
- “Whiteout conditions. Lake effect snow in Cleveland. Streets were extremely icy. A crossing car ran a red light going 45 mph at a blind intersection obscured by trees and the Model 3 automatically stopped before I could react. I missed a driver side collision, potentially fatal, by less than a car length.”
- “It seemed to make risky choices whenever an unusual situation arises, like a missing lane line or a truck merging suddenly into your lane.”
- “Car entered my lane and I did not notice. Autopilot took over and alerted me quickly. It maneuvered out of the way and saved us from a wreck going 80 mph.”
- “Didn’t recognize lanes properly on a two way road and put me in into oncoming traffic.”
There are hundreds of similar comments on the Bloomberg website you may want to read. The lesson, if there is one, is that people cannot take their hands off the wheel and their eyes off the road while Autopilot is in use. Many would like to think they can, but Autopilot is a driver assistant. Although it gets better with every new software update, it is not yet capable of fully independent driving, which means drivers must remain vigilant at all times. Many don’t want to hear that, but the results of the Bloomberg survey suggest true self driving is simply not here — at least not yet. [Editor’s note: As someone with Tesla Full Self Driving, I fully agree with Steve’s statements here.]
Owners who have ponied up the extra money for what Tesla calls its Full Self Driving package now have access to Smart Summon, a protocol that allows a car to travel at slow speeds from where it is parked to where the owner is, using a smartphone app. Introduced just a short while ago, it has already been used over a million times, sometimes with less than desirable results. One person wrote, “On my first attempt (in front of a bunch of work people) the car decided to drive over a red curb and into a median. The rim got some red curb rash & the rocker panel was damaged.”
Then there is this comment: “My wife and I are different levels of mobility impaired. Summon was one reason we purchased Tesla. Having the car come get us in a slippery or icy parking lot reduces our chance for falling. We’ve tried it in several lots and while it could be more graceful, it has met expectations.”
Bloomberg sent out a supplementary survey to 1,762 owners with Full Self Driving installed. 70% say it is a useful feature, but only 41% rated it reliable enough for average drivers to use. One owner described the summon feature as driving like “nervous teenager with a learner’s permit.” Another had this to say: “Smart Summon is a great step towards the eventual self-driving future, but it is very ‘beta’ at this point. It is not safe for use yet if you’re not a very experienced user.”
Just as Autopilot has improved with time since it was first introduced several years ago — Tesla now has more than 2 billion miles worth of data from cars using Autopilot — Smart Summon will improve based on feedback from real-world driving situations. Right now, it is mostly a novelty, but in time it may become an indispensable feature many new car buyers will demand.
Here are longer “uncut” versions of the two Smart Summon videos above:
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