Report Finds Tesla's Navigate on Autopilot Function May Pose Serious Safety Risks Without Driver Engagement

By Catie Keck on at

A newer Tesla feature to allow its cars to switch lanes automatically may present safety risks for drivers who aren’t actively engaged while the setting is enabled, according to findings by Consumer Reports.

Through its own independent testing on highways with a Model 3, Consumer Reports encountered a number of issues with the function offered through Tesla’s Navigate on Autopilot feature. These issues reportedly include cutting off vehicles moving at faster speeds as well as traffic-merging and braking issues. When merging into heavy traffic, according to Consumer Reports Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher, the system “often immediately applies the brakes to create space behind the follow car—this can be a rude surprise to the vehicle you cut off.”

Moreover, the report claimed that the function attempted to make lane changes that were ultimately illegal on highways where it was testing the feature in the US state of Connecticut.

Tesla said in an April blog post that through its customisable navigation options, Navigate on Autopilot can be set when en route to either turn on by itself, alert the driver of upcoming lane changes, or require a confirmation from the driver for the action. Drivers are able to stop an automatic lane change via the car’s touchscreen or by moving the vehicle’s turn signal, and the electric car company notes that the “feature does not make a car autonomous, and lane changes will only be made when a driver’s hands are detected on the wheel.”

Tesla states in the blog that “until truly driverless cars are validated and approved by regulators, drivers are responsible for and must remain in control of their car at all times.” A similar warning is displayed to drivers with the feature enabled, according to Consumer Reports. But it found that when switching off the confirmation function, the pop-up is initially displayed when making the setting change but doesn’t appear again while the feature is enabled and in use.

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment about the findings.

Around the same time that the feature was rolled out, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that he believes his company’s technology will soon reach a point where “having a human intervene will decrease safety,” something he says could happen as soon as later this year. However, he’s also said while he believes Teslas will be “feature-complete” by the end of 2019, that is not synonymous with a completely autonomous experience requiring no driver oversight. He’s said he does, however, predict that will be the case by the end of 2020.

Tesla said in April that through its internal and early access testing, “more than half a million miles” had been collectively driven with the autopilot lane change function enabled without a driver confirmation, in addition to more than 9 million successful suggested lane changes made with Navigate on Autopilot enabled. But ultimately, Fisher argued, the oversight required of the automatic lane change function for safe operation “is much harder than just changing lanes yourself.”

Featured image: Sean Gallup (Getty)