We tried Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’. This is what happened
The Model 3’s “full self-driving” feature required a lot of human intervention to protect us and everyone on the road. Sometimes that means pressing the brake to turn off the software, so it doesn’t try to steer around a car in front of us. Other times, we quickly jerk the wheel to avoid a collision. (Tesla requires drivers to keep their eyes on the road at all times and prepare to act immediately.)
I hope the car won’t make any more silly mistakes. After what felt like an eternity, the kids made it through. I exhaled.
We were clear to take our turn. The bike seemed overly hesitant at first, but then I noticed a cyclist approaching from our left. We waited.
As the cyclist crossed the intersection, the car pulled over and turned sideways.
“Full self-driving” is a $10,000 driver assistance feature offered by Tesla. While all new Teslas are capable of using “full self-driving” software, buyers must opt-in for a costly add-on if they want to access the feature. The software is still in beta and is currently only available to select Tesla owners, although CEO Elon Musk has stated that a broader rollout is coming soon. Musk promises that “full self-driving people” will be fully capable of bringing cars to their destination in the near future.
But it doesn’t do that. Far away from it.
Tesla owners have described the technology as impressive but also fraught with flaws. One moment it was driving perfectly, the next moment it almost hit something.
We asked Jason to meet us on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. It’s an urban lifeline that brings thousands of cars, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians into Manhattan. For experienced drivers, it can be a challenge.
Brooklyn gave us a chance to see how close Tesla’s autonomous driving software is to replacing human drivers. It’s the kind of place people drive because they have to, not a place chosen by corporate headquarters. That’s where self-driving cars can have the biggest impact.
At one point, we were on the right lane of Flatbush. A construction site looms ahead. The car continued at full speed forward toward a metal fence.
But this time I sat in the back seat. Instinctively, I raised my right arm like a Heisman Trophy, as if to protect myself from impact.
That was the moment when I wished “fully self-driving” would quickly change lanes. In other cases, I wish it would relax after its aggressive moves.
“Full self-driving” sometimes creates jerky turns. The wheel begins to rotate, but then reverses, before returning in the intended direction. Staggered turns generally don’t seem to be troublesome when sweeping through suburban curves, but in a crowded city largely built in front of cars, it’s annoying.
There are also brakes, which can feel random. At one point, a car sped up behind us after slamming on the brakes, surprising me. Being honked is common. I never quite felt like I knew what “full self-driving” was going to do next. Asking for “fully self-driving” to navigate Brooklyn is like asking a student driver to take a road test they’re not ready for.
What “full self-driving” can do well is impressive, but the experience in the end is astounding. I can’t imagine using “fully self-driving” so often in a city. I noticed that I didn’t want to look down at the Model 3’s dashboard, to test our speed, for example, because I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road.
Tesla owners often tell me how Autopilot, its highway-focused predecessor for “full self-driving” makes their trips less stressful. They arrive at destinations feeling less tired. Some have told me they are more likely to take longer road trips because of Autopilot.
But “fully self-driving” feels like the opposite. I feel like I need to be constantly on the lookout to prevent the car from doing something wrong.
Ultimately, witnessing “completely self-driving” in Brooklyn reminded me of the importance of finer points in driving, something an AI-powered car can hardly do. owner can. Things like pulling into an intersection on a narrow road to turn left, giving traffic behind you room to pull over. “Full Self-Driving” simply sits in place when the drivers behind angrily honk their horns.
For now, “full self-driving” seems closer to a party trick to recommend to friends than a must-have feature.