tesla autopilot

How Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving fared during a 6,400-mile drive

Credit: Tesla

A Tesla owner recently critiqued the performance of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving after the conclusion of a 6,400-mile trip across the United States. According to the driver, more than 99 percent of the trip was driven utilizing Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving functions, with the critiques showing the automaker’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of how both Autopilot and FSD can affect a drive of this substantial distance.

Tim Heckman took his Model S Plaid equipped with FSD Beta and Tesla Vision on the 6,392-mile trip from Los Angeles to Reading, Pennsylvania,  and back, recording most of the (currently unreleased) footage on a GoPro mounted inside the vehicle. There were undoubtedly positives but also negatives, as Heckman describes the utilization of Autopilot and FSD on a trip of this length as an advantage in the “personal cost” of driving this many miles in a matter of two weeks.

But where Tesla’s systems helped, it hurt elsewhere. Heckman describes frustration with the company’s recent transition to a camera-only approach, known as Tesla Vision, the suite’s lack of consistency outside of California, and where the company might have spent its focus over the past few years during the development.

No Radar, No Problem?

As Heckman took the drive in a Model S Plaid with camera-based Tesla Vision, the lack of radar was the first point of emphasis. Autopilot was more accurate and less stressful in a previous Tesla that equipped both cameras and radar for operation, Heckman said. “The removal of radar on the highway was a huge mistake,” he said in a Tweet. “Tesla Vision very often misidentified vehicles in front as being much closer than they are, trigging strong phantom braking. Sometimes losing 20mph of speed before I can react, which is a huge safety concern.”

During some points of the drive, the vehicle would recognize cars and adjust speeds that were not actually there. Additionally, Tesla Vision’s performance in low-visibility conditions like rain and fog was not ideal. Past iterations of the suites proved more effective, in Heckman’s opinion.

The automaker rolled out Tesla Vision in early 2021 in the Model 3 and Model Y, and the Model S and Model X received the update in 2022. When Tesla announced it would transition to a camera-only system, CEO Elon Musk explained that radar had helped solve the shortfalls that cameras couldn’t solve. However, it was never in the plan to rely on both radar and cameras.

“And when your vision works, it works better than the best human because it’s like having eight cameras, it’s like having eyes in the back of your head, beside[s] your head and has three eyes of different focal distances looking forward. This is — and processing it at a speed that is superhuman. There’s no question in my mind that with a pure vision solution, we can make a car that is dramatically safer than the average person,” Musk said during the Q1 2021 Earnings Call.

Speed Limit Changes

Another huge problem Heckman described was a slow decrease in speed after the reduction of speed limits in an area. This occurred on streets and not on the highway, but still raised some concern. Heckman noted it took “many seconds” to reach the legal speed when limits decreased by as much as 20 MPH.

Were Autopilot and FSD beneficial during this trip?


“I love long road trips, and Autopilot makes them easier,” Heckman said. Despite the issues, it was still a pleasant experience and something he hopes to do again on his next trek from LA to PA.

Heckman said he believes the lack of progress and improvements when speaking in terms of highway performance may be related to Tesla’s focus on solving self-driving on city streets.

“As a result of changing focus, Autopilot experience is worse than when we got our Model 3 in summer 2019,” he said.

Fun Fact: Tim told me his two longest days of driving were from Fort Worth, TX, to Burbank, CA, equating to roughly 1,404 miles, and from Burbank, CA, to Amarillo, TX, for 1,079 miles.

I’d love to hear from you! If you have any comments, concerns, or questions, please email me at joey@teslarati.com. You can also reach me on Twitter @KlenderJoey, or if you have news tips, you can email us at tips@teslarati.com.

How Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving fared during a 6,400-mile drive
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