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Tesla Semis Don’t Have Full Autopilot (and That’s a Very Good Thing)

By January 15, 2024Uncategorized

The much-delayed Tesla Semi has finally hit the road. The Semi started its first consumer deliveries in 2022. The vehicles have only been delivered to one customer – PepsiCo. Since then, the PepsiCo’s Tesla Semi fleet has grown to almost 100 vehicles.

The Tesla Semi is a battery electric Class 8 semi-truck built by Tesla. Unlike Tesla’s electric cars the Semi does not support an upgrade to Enhanced Autopilot. Enhanced autopilot adds semi-autonomous navigation on limited access roadways, self-parking, and the ability to summon the car from a garage or parking spot. Based on what has happened with their cars, this is a good thing. The Semi does have all the hardware necessary to support enhanced autopilot.

Tesla drivers are the most accident-prone, according to a LendingTree analysis of 30 car brands. It found that Tesla drivers are involved in more accidents than drivers of any other brand. Tesla drivers had 23.54 accidents per 1,000 drivers. Ram (22.76) and Subaru (20.90) were the only other brands with more than 20 accidents per 1,000 drivers for every brand.

This was not a causal study; the study did not analyze the reason for an incident. But it comes amid news that Tesla recently recalled more than 2 million Tesla cars over a safety issue related to its Autopilot software — specifically, a feature called Autosteer, which is part of the driver-assistance system. The recall affects nearly all the cars Tesla has sold in the United States.

Tesla, the electronic car manufacturer, is the world’s most valuable automotive company. It is led by Elon Musk, the richest man in the world. He has long envisioned cars that are fully self-driving and has been pushing the envelope on this technology.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statement says that, “in certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the … advanced driver-assistance feature.”

The recall is aimed at fixing the system that is supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when they use Autopilot. Tesla’s auto-driving feature doesn’t just take over and let the person in the driver’s seat read a book or take a nap. The driver must be prepared to intervene if an issue arises that the feature can’t handle.

Some people rely too heavily on the feature, and accidents occur. The Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation over a year ago after more than a dozen crashes happened while Tesla’s Autopilot software was engaged. The NHTSA reviewed 956 crashes for which Autopilot was alleged to have been in use. The agency then focused on 322 Autopilot-related accidents that included frontal collisions and collisions from potential unintended disengagement of the system.

Truck drivers work long hours. They are allowed to drive for 11 hours consecutively before taking a break. And it does not matter what time of day they are driving; truck drivers can legally drive all night if they so desire. Truck drivers are also usually paid by the total miles driven. In short, truck drivers’ incentives are such that they might be particularly likely to take a cat nap while autonomous driving takes over.

A Tesla Semi carrying a fully loaded trailer weighs approximately 82,000 pounds. The average weight of a mid-size sedan is 3,400 pounds. That makes an accident with a Semi more than 24 times worse than an accident with a car (kinetic energy is equal to mass times velocity squared).

The math can become worse very quickly. A Tesla Semi is a powerful truck. It is powerful enough to tote several trailers. The Semi trucks are permitted to tow up to four trailers and have a total weight of 400,000 lbs.

LendingTree, an online lending marketplace, allows for the collection of a great deal of data. Researchers analyzed tens of millions of QuoteWizard by LendingTree insurance quotes from November 14, 2022, through November 14, 2023.

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