Tesla Full Self Driving (Beta) Performance in Rural Northern Wisconsin

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I’ve been testing Tesla’s FSD Beta obsessively for 175 days in Utah and California metropolitan areas, and now in rural Northern Wisconsin and on the roads and Interstate highways in between.

Note: I am still using FSD Beta V10.11.2, because the expected big software update V10.12 has not been offered to me yet. This is typical. I have read about software updates several times now while not having them offered to me until some weeks later.

Our readers have pointed out that FSD Beta is not up to the task in very complex situations like the side streets of Manhattan, NY. I and others have pointed out that, for example, it can’t make an unprotected (no traffic lights) left turn onto a busy street. But how does FSD Beta perform on the highways and byways of the rural countryside?

My wife and I have a lake house on a chain of 29 lakes in Three Lakes, Wisconsin, where we entertain our extended family all summer (see picture above). Three Lakes has a population of 498 and no traffic lights. It is 4 miles from our house. The next nearest town 10 miles away is Eagle River, with a population 1,398 and several stoplights. We do our Walmart shopping in Rhinelander 30 miles away with a population of 8,285.

My Tesla Model 3 carrying two e-bikes. Three Lakes, Wisconsin. October 5, 2021. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

What is good about Tesla FSD Beta in the rural Three Lakes, Wisconsin environment?

  • The one-mile trip on Bonkowski Road to our house is a beautiful new blacktop, but it has no lines. FSD Beta will steer perfectly on Bonkowski Road and all the other roads in the area with no markings. The basic autosteer that comes with every Tesla requires yellow lines in the middle and white lines down the sides to engage and function.
  • The FSD Beta has no problem navigating the 15 mph turn as highway 32 joins highway 45 as you enter Three Lakes, and no problem navigating the 15 mph turn onto highway A as you leave Three Lakes. Tesla’s conventional autosteer would fail in both places.
  • With FSD Beta as you travel on Highway A going West from Three Lakes, you can set the speed at any speed up to 80 mph even though the map speed limit is only 40 mph but should be 55 mph. With the smart cruise that comes with every Tesla, you are stuck with a maximum speed of 45 mph unless you keep your foot on the accelerator. Note: FSD Beta will often let you set your maximum speed up to 80 mph, but other times it limits you to 5 mph over the speed limit. I haven’t figured out when or why.
  • FSD Beta and conventional smart cruise will automatically slow you down to 40 mph, then 30 mph (5 mph over the speed limit) as you enter Three Lakes. As you leave Three Lakes to the north on Highway 45, FSD Beta will automatically raise the speed to 60 mph. Conventional smart cruise requires you to raise your speed manually.
  • The Biggie: FSD Beta will navigate the 4 miles to Lickety Splitz in Three Lakes, the 10 miles to Ace Hardware in Eagle River, and the 30 miles to Walmart in Rhinelander without intervention.

What does the low-traffic rural environment allow you to do with FSD Beta?

  • FSD Beta is too timid at stop signs and rotaries to give the system free rein if a car is following you. Since in the rural environment you rarely have a vehicle following you, it is possible to patiently let FSD Beta do its thing in these situations.
  • There are other situations, like when FSD Beta picks the wrong lane at an intersection, that if other cars are present, you need to disengage. Overall, though, in the low-traffic rural environment, you can often let FSD Beta do its thing for better or worse.

Where have I run into trouble even in this simple rural low-traffic environment?

  • We recently took our granddaughter to the Central Wisconsin Airport 95 miles south of us near Wausau. As the we entered Rhinelander, Wisconsin, the navigation route showed a right turn onto Stevens street. FSD Beta missed the right turn and kept going straight ahead. We knew this was an acceptable alternate route, so we let it go. At the rotary, as we exited Rhinelander to the west, FSD Beta picked the wrong exit to the rotary and took a convoluted path to get back onto US Highway 8. (Note: There are numerous rotaries in the St. George, Utah, area where we spent a lot of time the last two winters, and FSD Beta always took the correct exit to the rotaries specified by the navigation.)
  • Recently, I was stopped behind a school bus that had stopped to let children off. FSD Beta started to go around the bus after a short pause. Others have also observed inappropriate passing when stopped in traffic. I have previously noted that FSD Beta visualizes yellow flashing 20 mph school zone lights, but does not slow down. Something needs updated. Proper school zone and school bus behavior is basic driving knowledge for any human with half a brain. One can only hope that Tesla corrects this behavior with the next software update.
  • I was coming out of the Walmart parking lot in Rhinelander and making a left turn on Eisenhower Parkway. Instead of following the navigation and the blue line indicating the proposed route straight ahead, FSD Beta started to make an unexpected right turn into the Kwik Trip parking lot. I have seen this behavior several times where FSD Beta will get into a turn lane and actually take an unexpected turn off the navigation route or correct itself at the last instant. I know this is beta software and you are supposed to be prepared to intervene at any time, but his means you have to be alert when crossing any side street that your car might head off in the wrong direction.

Do you have any experience with Tesla FSD Beta in rural locations that match or contradict any of these key conclusions and notes? If so, drop us a comment down below.


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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler has 113 posts and counting. See all posts by Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler