Are autopilot vehicles really self-driving?


Currently, completely self-driving vehicles are not yet commercially available in the Netherlands. The presently available vehicles with autopilot (also called pro-pilot) features are not fully self-driving. This implies that they cannot drive autonomously. A well-known example is the Tesla Autopilot feature, which turns a Tesla into a Level 2 automated vehicle (for an overview of the different levels, see the question Which levels of driving automation can be distinguished?). These Teslas can steer and keep a safe distance to the vehicle in front but, at all times, all aspects of the driving task will require the driver’s full attention. If the Autopilot fails, the driver must be able to intervene immediately. Therefore, it is important and even mandatory that drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel. The Autopilot feature supports the driving task, but does not make the car fully self-driving.

That an autopilot vehicle is not really self-driving, is not always evident to all its users. Analyses of crashes involving the Tesla Autopilot show that drivers sometimes rely on the Autopilot feature too much [17]. Drivers will not always keep their hands on the steering wheel, for instance, or will not sufficiently monitor the road environment. A study of drivers who are using Level 2 automation shows that, even when drivers keep their hands on the steering wheel and watch the road, they may overestimate what the vehicle can and will do [18]. This may result in hazardous situations. Some experts (for example [19]) note that the term ‘Autopilot’ may suggest that the system can do more than it actually can, which may contribute to crash occurrence. The choice of the term ‘ Autopilot’ has also been criticised by organisations and governments [20]. The German government, for example, sent Tesla a letter asking not to use the term in advertisements any longer.

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Part of fact sheet

Self-driving vehicles

It will probably take at least several decades for completely self-driving vehicles to become commercially available, if they ever will. Yet, Meer

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