May 23, 2024

What is it Like to Drive a Vehicle with Full Self Driving (FSD)?

By: Rob Lowe

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In May 2023, I purchased a Tesla, Model Y, Long Range after driving a Kia Niro EX Premium EV for 4 years.

AutoPilot (Basic Cruise Control) & Enhanced AutoPilot

My Tesla was equipped with AutoPilot which is Tesla’s base level Cruise Control, which includes some embellishments over other vehicle’s systems. One such feature, is that AutoPilot ‘cruise control’ can operate at all speeds. It monitors, using the many cameras and sensors around the vehicle, to inform the driver what the posted speed limit is, and if you are holding onto the steering wheel and while watching the road ahead and round the car. You can preset an offset of the speed limit so that when the car is using Autopilot, it will set the speed limit at a percentage or fixed amount above (or under) the posted speed. For instance if I’m driving in town and the speed limit is 50kmh (30mph), I preset it to automatically adjust the speed to a pecentage (say 10%) above (or below) the posted speed limit every time Autopilot is engaged. Alternatively, I can also set a amount (i.e.5 MPH or 8 KMH) above or below the speed limit. Interestingly, no matter what the default system (KMH or MPH) one chooses to display speed data in, the car displays the converted speed limit if driving in another Country where speeds are posted in the other measuring system (Metric or Imperial). Such a conversion is an exact mathematical conversion, so 60 MPH is 97 KMH, and vice versa. There are many other features available including AutoSteer, which keeps the car centered in the lane while AutoPilot is engaged. An optional upgrade is Enhanced AutoPilot which adds lane changing, speed control to and from a stop, along with summon and Self Parking among other features in the mix.

Full Self-Driving (FSD) (Supervised)

For the month of April, 2024, Tesla made Full Self-Driving (FSD) available to owners of all vehicles which contain the necessary hardware and software. It was enabled by an over-the-air software upgrade, which all Tesla owners are familiar with. At the time, this was an $18,000 USD upgrade to purchase, or it could be paid on a monthly subscription of $199. During the April trial, it was offered at no cost. I was pleased to have the opportunity to experience FSD and after experiencing using it in various driving situations, I’m convinced that it does make you a safer driver. The update that enabled FSD purportedly used the uploaded camera images from all existing Teslas on the road to develop a driving process that eliminated over 300,000 lines of computer code for both Highway and City Street Driving. It is not fully automated driving, the driver must be in control of the vehicle and supervise what is going on, ready to take immediate control, if required. This makes the car operate just as it would if you or I were safely driving with the ability to react to risky situations still in the driver’s control. The car immediately adjusts the road speed as speed limits change, obeying road stop signs and stop lights. It knows the rules of the road when at a four way (or all-way) stop and since it can ‘see’ with its cameras, it reacts much like most drivers would at these stops, whether other vehicles are present or not. The Tesla navigates traffic circles (roundabouts) fairly well and is cautious (just as we are) when an approaching vehicle is in the circle and may follow the circle rather than exiting it. In these settings, it may pause more than I would, just to ‘see’ which way the approaching vehicle is actually going.  That action can cause some anxiety, since you do not know what the car will do in that few seconds of uncertainty. The concern here is that our car may brake unexpectedly, causing a following driver to have to react unexpectedly. An interesting feature in these situations is that if you actually disengage FSD, a message appears in a lower section of the screen, noting the sudden disengagement, and asking you to tell Tesla what happened? Simply pressing a button on the steering wheel and giving a brief verbal explanation is all that is required, then the message is automatically sent to Tesla. These dialogues combined with the actual video will allow updates to be incorporated into the Full Self Driving software, making it even better in future updates.

Full Self-Driving (FSD) on a Highway or Interstate

A couple of examples of what a Tesla does when driving on the highway in FSD: Upon preparing to get onto a highway or interstate, the car signals a turn, stops, (say at a stoplight before the ramp), if required, then proceeds when clear, automatically turning the steering wheel to complete the turn onto the highway ramp. It safely accelerates up to speed, signals and enters the proper lane giving sufficient space, both ahead and behind the car. It feels weird to see the steering wheel rotate by itself. Driving along the road, it adjusts the speed to be within the limit (as you have set it) and maintains the appropriate distance from the vehicle ahead. Should it decide that it is better to maintain traffic flow by moving to the left lane then it turns on the signal and safely moves to the ‘passing lane’ and once past, it signals again and returns to the original lane in front of the slower vehicle, all while maintaining the ‘speed limit’. If it passes a transport truck, it moves more to the left in its lane, just as many car drivers do when overtaking a transport truck. Should it be driving in the right lane and it sees a vehicle stopped with lights flashing (say a Police car or tow truck) on the shoulder of the highway, then it signals the intention to pass by safely, moves to the left lane to provide clearance around that vehicle (as often required by law). Tesla cars ‘learned’ to do these things by being trained on thousands of video clips, it ‘viewed’ to learn what actual drivers do in these settings.

Full Self-Driving (FSD) on Local Streets in Towns and Cities

When in traffic, the Tesla moderates the speed to keep with the flow of traffic and flashes a notice on the screen to let the driver know what it is doing. The car reacts to speed limit changes, stop signs and stoplights for your lane on multi-lane roads, pedestrian crosswalks, railway crossings and numerous other ‘in city driving’ situations. I found that while I would not (and could not) not keep my hands on the wheel, I was able to drive more relaxed, than if I alone was in control.  The one caveat to this statement is the increased uncertainty in unusual situations when you are not sure what the car is going to do. Often, it surprises you and does what you would do. It’s the cases where it is ‘uncertain’ that can increase the driver’s anxiety. The other situations are the times when there are passengers in the car and they think the car should do one thing, when the car chooses an alternative. For obvious reasons that increases driver anxiety.  

FSD is an amazing feature, not without its bugs or flaws, it definitely makes many driving situations less stressful and you arrive at your destination more relaxed. You are engaged in the drive but many of the routine tasks of driving are safely handled while the trip progresses. You can always disengage FSD and take over control, if needed or desired. Based on the increasing flow of new data to Tesla from more drivers using FSD and the comments sent upon FSD unexpected disengagements in real time, FSD will continue to improve over time. 

There still are facets to the FSD feature that I have not tried.  I have not had the car Self Park either by parallel parking on a roadway or perpendicular spots in a parking lot, nor have I tried Summon or Smart Summon to meet me where I am outside a store. Still some exploring to do! Hopefully this article gave you a good overview of Tesla’s Full Self Driving application.


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