According to a survey released by Bloomberg, the majority of Tesla Model 3 owners believe Autopilot makes them safer. The survey includes responses from 5,000 owners. Although the overall sense is that the software improves safety, there were instances when drivers were unhappy with how it operated.
- The survey asked 5,000 Tesla Model 3 owners about their experiences with Autopilot.
- Respondents had both positive and negative experiences using the software.
- Despite these mixed results, the majority of owners feel safer thanks to Autopilot
Self-driving technologies are trickling down into more cars every model year. Tesla hasn’t shied away from rolling them out across its lineup. Autopilot, which lets the car steer, accelerate, and brake automatically, is currently a standard feature on every Tesla.
Are you paying attention?
There’s also Full Self-Driving Capability available as a package for $7,000. This adds the ability to navigate on and off highways, manage interchanges, overtake slower cars, automatically change lanes, parallel and perpendicular park, and even summon a vehicle to the driver from a parking lot. Despite calling it Full Self-Driving Capability it does still require an attentive driver.
That’s the challenge all autonomous driving technologies currently face. They aren’t fully autonomous and still require a human driver because every now and then these systems behave unpredictably. Overall, however, the Tesla owners surveyed are pleased with Autopilot.
Those owners reported over 1,600 close calls while using the feature with 13 percent of owners saying Autopilot put them in a dangerous situation while 28 percent said it saved them from one. The results lean toward the positive, but for those 13 percent who had negative experiences, was it enough for them to say Autopilot wasn’t a good thing?
The answer was an overwhelming no with 90 percent of owners saying Autopilot makes them safer, even those who did experience problems. Only six drivers said it caused a collision with nine saying it saved their lives. Still, despite hundreds of respondents saying Autopilot behaved dangerously, it gets high overall marks.
Smart Summon also received high marks. This feature, introduced over the summer, lets owners summon their parked car to their location through a parking lot. Bloomberg sent a follow-up survey to 1,732 Model 3 owners with the Full Self-Driving package that includes Smart Summon.
Smart Summon lets you summon your car from the parking lot using your smartphone. (Photo: Tesla)
Not perfect, but close enough.
Again, despite issues with it not operating perfectly, including a few dented fenders, 70 percent of owners said it’s a useful feature. On the negative side, 41 percent said it’s not reliable enough for the average driver. Not perfect, but close enough was a common thread in owner comments.
While Tesla owners trust Autopilot, not every feature in every car inspires the same kind of trust. A recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study showed problems trusting even more basic technologies like lane-centering. Though the technology worked, it often wasn’t close enough to how a human drives to inspire confidence.
Trust, or lack of it, is a consistent problem with the introduction of self-driving technologies. Many of these features, like lane-keeping assist, are designed to keep people safer, but when they don’t work as expected those features get turned off.
On the flip side, too much trust creates a false sense of security. The safety of Autopilot was questioned early-on in a Harvard Business Review story shortly after a driver was killed in a collision while using the feature. Over the years, the automotive industry has increasingly focused on the need for drivers to pay attention when these features are in use to help avoid collisions.
There is a learning curve on the part of humans and the technology. While not yet perfect, the confidence today’s Tesla Model 3 owners have in Autopilot bodes well for the acceptance of self-driving technologies in the future.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Self-driving technologies stand to make everyone from drivers to passengers to pedestrians safer. There’s a way to go before drivers can read a book while the car takes them to work, but the acceptance of feature like Autopilot, even though it’s not perfect, is a hopeful sign for the future of these potentially life-saving technologies.