Here’s why Tesla Autopilot users still need to keep their hands on the wheel

tesla-autopilot-model s
Tesla only released its Autopilot autonomous-driving system about a week ago, but videos of it in action are already popping up online. However, they won’t necessarily provide confidence in the system, which can perform certain driving functions autonomously under certain conditions.

Drivers using Autopilot are advised to still keep their hands on the wheel, and this pair of videos (via the Daily Mail) show why. Both show Autopilot reacting unpredictably, and prove that an alert human driver is still needed for the system, which Tesla CEO Elon Musk says the company considers to be in “public beta.”

In one video, a car drifts out of its lane, and then swerves decisively into oncoming traffic, rather than away from it. Tesla’s Autosteer function monitors the car in front to orient itself. The Tesla driver, YouTube user RockStarTree, said he believed the car had lost sensor lock on the vehicle it was following, and mistakenly tried to “follow” an oncoming car when it came into sensor range.

A second video shows an Autopilot-equipped Model S veering to the side of the road on a highway offramp, after driving through traffic without incident. In both cases, drivers took their hands off the wheel against Tesla’s advice, but stayed alert and were able to retake control before any crashes occurred. A Model S on Autopilot has also apparently been caught speeding. The car was pulled over in Florida for doing 75 mph in a 60 mph zone, according to InsideEVs.

It just goes to show that, at this stage at least, Autopilot does not turn a Tesla Model S into a fully-autonomous car. When unveiling the system, Musk said it works best on highways with dense traffic and painted lines on both shoulders, and that performance diminishes in other conditions. In both of the swerving videos, cars were off the highway and relatively distant from other vehicles.

Because of Autopilot’s limited functionality, Tesla is also reminding owners that they are responsible for any crashes that occur while the system is engaged. Musk has said fully-autonomous cars could arrive eventually, but the ability to sip a latté while your car does the driving hasn’t arrived yet. 

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