Self-Driving Cars: Update and Rebuttal (In 4 parts)

Andy_Self Driving Car_Update Tesla 1

Last month’s article about automated, self-driving cars brought quite a bit of comment, which is great. The staff here at The Kicker Blog is always excited to dive deeper into topics that our readers are passionate about. In response, we researched more into the technology and sent our curmudgeonly Op-Ed guy out to take a Tesla Model S for a test spin to try out the Tesla version of autonomous driving. Afterward, we interviewed him to see if his opinion had changed.

Skip to Part 2 & 3

Skip to Part 4

Autonomous Driving Vehicles Update: Part 1     The Test Drive

So what was your first impression?

It’s a beautiful automobile! It has all the bells and whistles you could ask for, and some you wouldn’t think to ask for. Sleek lines. You can’t see one up close without realizing you’re looking at something special. I mean the attention to detail is obvious. Despite it’s modern, spacecraft-like design, it reminds me of early car designs in a way. You can tell a lot of original thought went into it.

So no complaints about the car itself?

Well, I’d have to be a master yogi to get in it on a regular basis, but that’s pretty common these days. Once you’re inside it’s like a cockpit, it wraps around you and feels very comfortable. It left me wishing I had time to read the owner’s manual before attempting to drive it. But once you get passed the amount of data at your fingertips it drives like a normal car.

How was it to engage the self-driving features for the first time?

The first thing you have to get used to is the regenerative breaking, which has nothing to do with the actual automated driving. There’s no coasting in the car. If you take your foot off the gas it applies breaks. I was warned about them but it really affects you the first time you drive it. I didn’t expect that. It bugged me all the way through the test drive. I’m told that you do adjust to it, and I can see that I would. It’s certainly no worse than trying to learn to drive a manual when you’re used to an automatic.

But the self-driving kicks in just fine?

You have a separate stalk under the turn signal to engage it which I kept confusing with the turn signal, and you need special commands to turn on slightly different types of assistance. Again you’d probably get used to that, but it combines to make it a feature you just wouldn’t want to take on until you’d gotten used to all the other aspects of the car. That’s the good news, most people buying the car won’t feel like they need to try out all the things the car can do in one shot. They can easily put self-driving off until later. Which is good because I didn’t find that I got used to it just driving it around that day.

So specifically, what were the ups and downs for you?

Well below 35 you can use the follow feature, which is great in stop-and-go traffic. I really liked that. I can see that being a real plus and prevent the common, congestion-related, rear-end that creates even more accidents and congestion. I see great potential there, but of course, that’s not really a self-driving function because the car in front of you is driving both vehicles.

The downside, I took it on a rural road with faded or missing paint, which is pretty common out here. I’d estimate that it would have left the lane a couple times a mile, but it’s impossible to tell, really. The feature requires you to have both hands on the wheel, which is less comfortable to me so I kept removing one hand and it’d kick off. Then when I did have both hands on, and it started drifting, I’d automatically correct without thinking about it, which would kick it off. The focus I put into keeping it engaged probably counts as distracted driving. I’m sure most fans of the tech would say I was to blame for the fight for control, but none the less, my perception of it was that it got in the way.

So you’re overall impression?

It’s a shame to me, to have some gizmo drive that beautiful car for me because it’s a fun driver. The first straight stretch I came to happened to have a stop sign at the top of a hill. I floored it and did 60 mph in under 4 seconds. I’ve jumped out of planes before and I didn’t get that feeling of acceleration. I’m sure I’d have gone faster but I ran out of road. It glides to stop nicely too.

So still not a fan of autonomous driving?

Well, I didn’t say that. I recognize the appeal of removing accidents. Especially if we can do that while also increasing actual (road) capacity. And I do see the argument of those who say we’ve been automating cars for decades–it’s not really a new thing. The owner of the particular car I test-drove said she has noticed a big improvement with each of the frequent system updates. So Tesla is drawing data as fast as they can and making continuous improvements. That gives me hope that they can overcome some of the chunkiness I felt.

Have you revised your timeline to implementation then?

Absolutely not! I don’t see this becoming more than a fad for another five years, but I could be wrong. It’s happened once or twice. But I was more impressed than I anticipated.


Well, there you have it, folks. Even the traditionalists can be won over…at least a little. As before, please contact us with comments.


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