Tesla Model S drivers, most of whom are in California, got a software update for their cars a few weeks ago, giving them access to some cool features—Autosteer, Auto Lane Change and Autopark—and some of them have been posting their unregulated highway beta testing on YouTube.
It’s a great success, in that the videos get a lot of hits. But it’s not so great if Tesla performance and safety are big factors. One driver in Portland, Oregon, had a friend record his hands-free driving on the freeway while discussing and displaying the car’s other new features, including the massive, cluttered console screen he regularly consulted.
The driver said he wasn’t as worried about injury as wrecking the car, but acknowledged he had insurance and could buy a new one. They cost upwards of $70,000. He’d just have to wait four months. Everything went fine until the driver entered the exit ramp at the 3-minute mark and the car failed to negotiate the curve.
Fortunately, the driver heeded Tesla owner and CEO Elon Musk admonition not to take your hands far from the steering wheel. The driver grabbed it as the video ended and agreed with the passenger that Tesla was right to recommend the feature only be used on the highway, not in city driving.
Another Tesla driver posted a short video of himself almost dying on a tree-lined two-lane road. He wrote:
“My car was tracking the car in front of me to successfully steer, but I was going closer to the speed limit and that car eventually drifted far ahead of me. Shortly after that, another car was coming in my car's direction from the opposite side of the road. I can only guess at what happened next. My car suddenly veered to the left, crossing the double-yellow road divider line right into its path.”
He jerked the wheel right and barely escaped, but felt justified in titling his YouTube video: “Tesla Autopilot Tried to Kill Me.”
Tesla has been installing the hardware for its new features for awhile, but didn’t push the software out until October 14. The features do not allow the car to become self-driving, like the vehicles being tested by Google and other companies under the watchful eye of government. That would be wrong, and illegal.
Musk has warned, “We tell drivers to keep their hands on the wheel just in case, to exercise caution in the beginning.”
To showcase the car’s new capabilities, three people in a Tesla let the car drive itself 96% of the time from Redondo Beach, California, to Manhattan. It arrived in New York on Wednesday after being on the road for 57 hours and 48 minutes. There were some scary moments.
Alex Roy, a profession rally driver, said, “There were probably three or four moments where we were on autonomous mode at 90 miles an hour, and hands off the wheel,” according to Wired. They hit a curve and, “If I hadn’t had my hands there, ready to take over, the car would have gone off the road and killed us.”
But he did have his hands there and all is well. Musk congratulated the crew after the cross-country tour, and Tesla spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn told Wired, “It’s so cool to see Model S owners get out there and use this groundbreaking technology. The more people who use it, the better it will get.”