Tesla's latest update to its electric car software allowed its Model S sedans access to self-driving options for the first time, unlocking Autosteer, Auto Lane Change, and Autopark features for use on US roads. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was careful to specify that these features did not turn Tesla's cars into fully autonomous vehicles, but that hasn't stopped some Tesla drivers from getting into some dangerous situations, treating their updated Model S as a proper self-driving car — and filming the results.
Two videos, uploaded to YouTube the day after the update rolled out, already show drivers' Model S cars reacting unpredictably with Autosteer engaged. In one, the vehicle appears to jerk to the right as the driver turns off a highway, attempting to lead him off the single-track sliproad and into a bush. In the other, the Model S Autosteers into oncoming traffic, pulling the wheel to the left just after another car passes in the other direction. The driver of the car, YouTube uploader RockTreeStar, suggests that the Tesla's Autosteer function — which works by tracking the car in front — attempted to follow the oncoming car as it entered its sensor range.
The videos depict scary moments for the drivers, but it should be noted that both were using the new features in ways Tesla has expressly warned against. Elon Musk has called the new self-driving functions "beta" features, and told drivers to keep their hands on the wheel while Autosteer is engaged, stating that humans are still responsible for any accidents while operating the car. Both drivers in the videos aren't following these instructions to the letter, but by hovering their hands above the wheel, are quick enough to react to the sudden movements that they avoid any actual danger. They're also using the features on smaller roads, and with oncoming traffic; at this stage in its development, Autosteer is designed for use on the highway only.
Both drivers shown in the videos admit they ignored safety advice, removing their hands from the wheel and testing the Autopilot features off the highway. They won't be the only ones — more videos of Tesla drivers misusing the cars' self-driving functions are likely to surface when Autopilot gets regulatory approval in Europe and Asia, and when they roll out to the company's other vehicles. But while these examples suggest a dangerous future where cars willingly steer drivers to their doom, self-driving cars may actually be safer than regular vehicles in the long run — Google said in May that during six years of road tests, its self-driving cars have only been in 11 accidents, none of which were the car's fault.
Verge Video archive: Google's self-driving cars are safe