I tried Tesla's Autopilot for the first time — and it was nerve-racking at first (TSLA)

tesla autopilot

  • Tesla‘s Autopilot can assist drivers by keeping a car in its lane and adjusting its speed based on surrounding traffic, among other features.
  • In June, I tried Autopilot for the first time in a Model 3 on crowded, New York City streets.
  • Using Autopilot was scary at first, as I had trouble letting the system handle any amount of driving without my input, even with my hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
  • But I eventually realized how it could ease some of the foot and ankle fatigue driving on crowded streets can cause.

As the auto industry moves toward self-driving vehicles, it finds itself in an uncomfortable position. Today’s consumer cars can’t drive themselves — and aren’t close. But they can give drivers enough assistance that some become too comfortable and overestimate their car’s autonomous driving capabilities.

Tesla‘s Autopilot was a pioneer among semi-autonomous systems. In its current iteration, it can keep a car in its lane and adjust its speed based on surrounding traffic, among other features, but it has attracted controversy due to a series of high-profile accidents.

Tesla has pointed to statistics that link Autopilot with lower accident and fatality rates and said it has made clear to customers that they must be alert when using the system. Critics say Tesla’s favorite statistics don’t isolate Autopilot’s effect on safety and argue that, despite Tesla’s warnings, the system breeds complacency in drivers who eventually place too much faith in it.

In June, I tried Autopilot and drove a Model 3 for the first time on crowded, New York City streets. I spent under 30 minutes with the feature in a single environment, so I wasn’t able to come to a definitive conclusion about how effective it is, but in my brief time with the feature, I got a sense of how it can be useful in heavy traffic, and how even limited, semi-autonomous driving systems represent a big shift in automotive technology.

Here’s what happened when I drove a Model 3 and tried Autopilot for the first time.


The Model 3 is Tesla’s first mass-market car.

Tesla launched the Model 3 in July 2017 and has struggled to ramp up production. On July 2, the company announced that it hit a production milestone CEO Elon Musk previously said it would meet by the end of 2017.

The Model 3 starts at $35,000, though only higher-priced versions are currently available.

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