Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot with automatic lane changes was recently tested by Consumer Reports, and the results were not encouraging. In a rather scathing review of the driver-assist capability, the consumer advocacy group concluded that Navigate on Autopilot’s capabilities lagged far behind a human driver’s skill set, making it more of a liability than an asset. The advocacy group also noted that the new Autopilot feature is not “self-driving” by any means.
Consumer Reports stated that during its tests, the feature ended up cutting off cars without leaving enough space, while passing other vehicles in ways that may violate state laws. This results in Navigate on Autopilot requiring constant observation and attention, essentially requiring drivers to stay one step ahead of the system at all times. Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports’ senior director of auto testing, described these observations as follows.
“The system’s role should be to help the driver, but the way this technology is deployed, it’s the other way around. It’s incredibly nearsighted. It doesn’t appear to react to brake lights or turn signals, it can’t anticipate what other drivers will do, and as a result, you constantly have to be one step ahead of it,” he said.
The group also noted that Tesla’s rearward-facing cameras could not detect fast-approaching objects from the rear. These cause issues when Navigate on Autopilot changes lanes or merges into traffic, according to Fisher.
“The system has trouble responding to vehicles that approach quickly from behind. Because of this, the system will often cut off a vehicle that is going a much faster speed since it doesn’t seem to sense the oncoming car until it’s relatively close. It is reluctant to merge in heavy traffic, but when it does, it often immediately applies the brakes to create space behind the follow car—this can be a rude surprise to the vehicle you cut off,” Fisher said, adding that “in essence, the system does the easy stuff, but the human needs to intervene when things get more complicated,” he said.
In conclusion, Consumer Reports noted that while automatic lane changes could be a compelling capability for Tesla’s vehicles, Navigate on Autopilot doesn’t provide any meaningful assistance to drivers on the road. Summarizing the findings of the test, Fisher noted that “This isn’t a convenience at all. Monitoring the system is much harder than just changing lanes yourself. Using the system is like monitoring a kid behind the wheel for the very first time. As any parent knows, it’s far more convenient and less stressful to simply drive yourself.”
David Friedman, vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports, also weighed in on the group’s findings. In its current iteration, Friedman argued that Navigate on Autopilot’s automatic lane change function raises safety concerns. “Tesla is showing what not to do on the path toward self-driving cars: release increasingly automated driving systems that aren’t vetted properly,” he says. “Before selling these systems, automakers should be required to give the public validated evidence of that system’s safety—backed by rigorous simulations, track testing, and the use of safety drivers in real-world conditions,” Friedman said.
A Tesla spokesperson has provided a statement to Consumer Reports, stating that “Navigate on Autopilot is based on map data, fleet data, and data from the vehicle’s sensors” and emphasizing that “it is the driver’s responsibility to remain in control of the car at all times, including safely executing lane changes.” The electric car maker also pointed the group to a company blog post from April 3, which stated that through internal testing and an Early Access Program, “more than half a million miles have already been driven with the lane change confirmation turned off.”
“Our team consistently reviews data from instances when drivers took over while the feature has been in use, and has found that when used properly both versions of Navigate on Autopilot offer comparable levels of safety. We’ve also heard overwhelmingly from drivers in our Early Access Program that they like using the feature for road trips and during their daily commutes, and we’re excited to release the option to the rest of the Tesla family,” Tesla noted.
Navigate on Autopilot is currently listed under Tesla’s Full Self-Driving suite, but it should be noted that the feature, at its current iteration, requires a fully attentive driver. This is something that is emphasized by Tesla every time Autopilot is engaged, as seen in warnings that remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road at all times. Tesla is building up its vehicles’ features to be fully self-driving in the future, but until regulators approve autonomous vehicles on the road, and until Tesla can effectively and safety roll out a hands-free driving system, Autopilot will remain a hands-on, intelligent driver-assist suite.
Consumer Reports’ full take on Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot with automatic lane changes could be accessed here.