After the recent and widely covered series of Tesla accidents while on Autopilot, Tesla CEO Elon Musk talked about focusing on better educating Tesla owners on how to use Autopilot features. Last month, he mentioned an upcoming blog post to highlight “how Autopilot works as a safety system and what drivers are expected to do after they activate it.”
We have yet to see that blog post, but now Electrek has learned that Tesla will introduce new Autopilot safety restrictions in order to reduce the risk of similar accidents happening again. Tesla owners are often wary of new Autopilot restrictions. They feel like Tesla is rolling back features that they have paid for, but they shouldn’t worry about the new restrictions since they will not really affect owners using the system properly.
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Right now, Tesla’s Autopilot sporadically sends out alerts on the dashboard reading Hold Steering Wheel and the driver has to apply pressure on the wheel to make it go away. If you quickly respond to those alerts, the Autopilot’s Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) do not disengage.
But you can’t ignore the alerts for too long. Otherwise, the system will disengage. Here’s how Tesla describes the abort procedure:
“When the driver failed to respond to 15 seconds of visual warnings and audible tones, Autosteer began a graceful abort procedure in which the music is muted, the vehicle begins to slow and the driver is instructed both visually and audibly to place their hands on the wheel.”
Any Tesla driver following the company’s Autopilot guidelines, or drivers who are quick to respond to the Hold Steering Wheel alert, never experience the abort procedure.
Now for whatever reason, there are Tesla owners who push the feature and don’t immediately respond to the alerts. After reviewing the vehicle logs in a few of the recent so-called ‘Autopilot accidents’, Tesla implied that it was the cause of some of them. For example, Tesla reported that the Model X in the accident on the Pennsylvania Turnpike initiated the abort procedure 11 seconds prior the accident.
Tesla responds to ‘cover-up’ claims in ‘Montana Autopilot Accident’, offers more details on investigation
A similar situation with the Model X accident in Montana last month, Tesla says that the driver ignored several alerts prior to the impact.
Now we learn that Tesla is about to introduce a new restriction with the upcoming v8.0 software update to give more weight to the alerts. According to sources familiar with the Autopilot program, Tesla will add a safety restriction that will result in not only the Autopilot disengaging after alerts are repeatedly ignored, but also blocking the driver from re-engaging the feature after it was automatically disengaged.
The driver will not be able to reactivate the Autopilot until the car is stopped and put in ‘Park’. So far, it looks like it would only affect the Autosteer feature of the Autopilot and TACC would still be available for the duration of the drive.
The goal of the new restriction appears to be to encourage Tesla owners to respond to the visual alert and not to ignore them.
Now owners will also be happy to learn that with the new safety restriction, they should receive fewer alerts in v8.0 since Tesla is also introducing significant improvements to the Autopilot. We discussed the new off-ramp feature (and we should be able to share more about that soon), but Tesla is also pushing improvement to the overall Autopilot performance in v8.0.
After around 200 million miles driven on Autopilot, Tesla is refining its system and aside from hardware limitations, like the sun glaring in the single-front-facing camera, the system is now reportedly extremely efficient in good conditions and can handle ramp-to-ramp highway driving. Of course, always with vigilant monitoring by the driver.
Last week, Elon Musk said Tesla’s software v8.0 with improved Autopilot is going to ‘final review’. We expect the release to be imminent.