Warning to Tesla owners: Don't follow N.Y. Times guide to autonomous driving

On Route 80 west in northern New Jersey on Saturday, I briefly engaged the autonomous-driving features of my Tesla Model S, allowing pedal-free and hands-free driving. But a recent New York Times article erred on how the system works.


New York Times reporter Aaron M. Kessler made two big errors in reporting on high-speed autonomous driving in the Tesla Model S, and one of them could land owners off the road.

In an Oct. 15 article in the paper's Wheels newsletter, Kessler said a software update gave owners Autopilot, "a semi-autonomous feature that allows hands-free, pedal-free driving on the highway under certain conditions."

But the business-automotive writer made no mention of Autosteer, the other shoe that has to drop for the car to "drive us, rather than the other way around," as Kessler put it.

I had the same incomplete understanding on Oct. 16, when I first tried Autopilot on Route 80 west, near my home in northern New Jersey.

I blame some of that on an Oct. 15 email from Tesla -- "Your Autopilot has arrived" -- that didn't fully explain how to engage Autopilot and Autosteer.

After reading the email and Tesla's blog, I asked my wife to accompany me on our first attempt on Route 80, and figured pulling back on the cruise-control stalk would engage the self-driving functions.

I soon found out that wasn't enough, as my Model S didn't start turning as we entered a curve on the highway. I grabbed the wheel.

I turned around in Paterson, and headed for the Tesla dealer on Route 17 in Paramus, where one of the product specialists accompanied me on my second attempt.

I was told I had to pull back once on the cruise-control stalk to engage Autopilot and a second time to engage Autosteer, lighting up speedometer and steering-wheels symbols that flank the digital speed display.

Second error

Kessler's second major error was reporting "Autopilot is not free (the download costs $2,500)."

That's not the case. 

Tesla Version 7 software with self-driving functions is free, but only to owners who paid for an option called Autopilot Convenience Features when they ordered their car ($2,500 or $3,000 after delivery).

When I ordered my 2015 Tesla Model S 60 early this year, the option was called Tech Package with Autopilot and cost $4,250.

Kessler also didn't mention Tesla's Autopark, which scans for a parking space, alerts you when one is available and parallel parks on your command.

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