I took my first highway trip with my 2016 AP1 Model S after Tesla had forced me to downgrade the Autopilot functionality from v2019.36.2.1 to v2020.4.1 in order to comply with the regulation UNECEr79. My initial experience was terrible. After 3.5 years of a great experience, the new version of Autopilot leaves me feeling like I have lost a well-working friend.
When Tesla informed me on December 17th, 2019 about an upcoming change in functionality in order to comply with regulation UNECEr79, I decided to not castrate the functionality of my Model S. Many other owners also decided against removing well-working functionality. On February 14th, 2020, Tesla informed all resisting owners, that they would be thrown off the Tesla Network, if they didn’t update.
I know that the regulation tries to make the system better than human drivers. But, it is impractical. Steven Peeters has already suggested that UnECEr79 is a theoretical and impractical regulation which makes systems like Autopilot less secure.
I understand that Tesla is not behind this regulation. But by forcing regulation UNECEr79 onto existing and older products, one might argue that Tesla has reduced the functionality and the current value of a product bought in 2016. The former version had worked flawlessly without one glitch. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the newer version.
Let me list all the obvious things that annoyed me – and most likely the drivers behind me – during my first contact compared to the former version.
Autopilot deactivates when changing lanes
When setting the turn signal to initiate a maneuver to change lanes, the new version of Autopilot forces me to wait at least one second to turn the steering wheel. It doesn’t do it on its own after I nudge the steering wheel, but it expects me to count one second myself. If I turn the wheel too early or with a little too much force, the AP instantly disengages. Since I put some force to the wheel, the car will make the turn using that amount of force. This may lead to a rather abrupt and maybe dangerous maneuver.
Autopilot doesn’t leave a lane quickly enough
The faster moving traffic has no issue with my vehicle’s turn signal flashing and me not changing into their lane. But, the situation becomes way more dangerous when changing lanes to the slower moving traffic. When I am overtaking vehicles and other vehicles behind me want to go even faster than I, and these are rather closely behind my vehicle, they expect me to quickly leave the faster lane for the slower one. When I set the turn signal, they expect me to move over right then and there.
Human drivers tend to be optimistic about their decisions, while cars regulated by UNECEr79 are even more pessimistic than what Tesla already implements into Autopilot.
Human drivers start to accelerate their vehicles even before another vehicle in front of them has left their lane. They interpret the turn signal as the sign to accelerate their vehicle. The older version of Autopilot allowed me to set the turn signal and initiate the turn right away. The new version forces me to wait at least one second. But the human driver behind me doesn’t know that. One second can be a very long time when another car is accelerating behind me and my vehicle can’t start to leave the lane.
Phantom breaking is back
Phantom breaking is when Autopilot makes a breaking maneuver without an obvious reason. These used to happen in older versions but not, or less, in the latest versions which had no phantom breaking for months. The new version, though, does a lot of phantom breaking when cars pull in front of my car, even though the distances to them are ok. The phantom breaking doesn’t happen right away, but a couple of seconds later when Autopilot decelerates hard and way too much. This can present very dangerous situations when other cars follow me.
Another situation was even more dangerous: When making a long, nearly 90 degrees left turn around Lachen, Switzerland on an autobahn, which the older version has achieved perfectly many times in various conditions at the allowed 120 km/h (75 mph), the new version of Autopilot didn’t in perfect conditions. It made the turn even tighter, coming closer and closer to the left inside lane marking. When the wheels touched the wide marking, the car suddenly crossed it even further to the left, bringing the car very close to the inside grass embankment and the lane dividers. I could just barely avoid a crash.
And then, there is the new steering wheel nagging every 15 seconds. The former and many versions before it had a variable nagging feature which worked quite well.
With the new version, my 2016 AP1 Model S now feels like a completely different car! It feels like a baby trying to walk, very much like Brad Pitt in the movie Benjamin Button in which he becomes younger to the point of being a baby again.
Don’t get me wrong! Tesla Autopilot is a life-saver! It’s the best device next to the electric drivetrain on my Model S. It’s the regulation UNECEr79 that is the problem, and that Tesla supported the UN/ECE organization to forcefully have me downgrade a perfectly functioning product which I have been using for over three years.
Since the US is a member of the UN/ECE organization, but doesn’t care about its regulations, American drivers are lucky to not have to feel the pain that Europeans have.