Tips and advice

Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving explained

What is Tesla Autopilot? How much does it cost in the UK and it is safe? We answer your questions

Tesla Model S - rear 3/4 view

There are times when most of us wish our cars could drive themselves, perhaps on a long and boring motorway journey or when there are emails and messages on our phones to deal with.

It probably won’t have escaped your attention that self-driving cars are in development and that Tesla appears to be at the forefront of this effort. The ‘basic’ version of Tesla Autopilot is included as standard in the UK but you can also pay for ‘Full Self-Driving Capability’. However, it’s important to remember that:

Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are only driver assistance aids, and the driver needs to be awake and alert at all times.

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No car is fully self-driving, despite the name of Tesla’s technology, and it’s dangerous to think that a car offers that capability. Self-driving technology isn’t foolproof and isn’t yet able to deal with every scenario and road layout you may encounter as a driver.

The UK’s laws are another sticking point; drivers may be able to use an Automated Lane-Keeping System without having a hand on the steering wheel later in 2021 but only on the motorway and only at speeds of up to 37mph. Otherwise, attempting to let your car ‘drive itself’ is illegal.

How does Tesla Autopilot work?

Woman looking at phone in front of a Tesla

Tesla’s basic Autopilot system consists of adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keeping assistance. The car can keep in its lane on the motorway, adapt its speed to match the vehicle in front and avoid causing a collision, but no more than that.

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Enhanced Autopilot adds the ability to change lanes, using the car’s sensors to note where surrounding cars are and the speeds they’re travelling at. It also includes self-parking ability and the option to summon your car out of a car parking space. An enhanced summon function is coming later on.

Cars equipped with the Full Self-Driving package also have traffic light and stop sign recognition. Tesla is reportedly in the latter stages of developing technology to allow its cars to steer themselves on city streets (even if current legislation in many countries won’t allow you to use it). Self-driving systems that function in town as well on the motorway are one of the final steps in creating cars that can completely drive themselves.

Before buying or driving a Tesla with Autopilot in the UK, read up on exactly what the car can do and in which situations it works. After all, there have been a number of high-profile Tesla Autopilot crashes, some of them fatal.

Tesla Autopilot price

Basic Autopilot is fitted as standard on Tesla Model 3, Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X cars, while at the time of writing Enhanced Autopilot costs £3,400 and Full Self-Driving costs the same again. Adding the latter will substantially increase the price of your Tesla, while rivals tend to charge much less for the same features in most cases.

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Volkswagen offers Travel Assist, Park Assist and Traffic Jam Assist functions for about £1,500 all-in (and they’re standard on high-end versions of some models), while Hyundai’s Highway Drive Assist and Lane-Following Assist tech is fitted on top-spec Tucson models for no extra cost.

Is Tesla Autopilot safe?

The race to fully self-driving cars is well and truly on, with companies like Waymo even operating autonomous taxi fleets in certain parts of America. These companies, including Tesla, have racked up billions of miles in testing to try and ensure that their cars can handle every eventuality they may face.

The important thing to note is that Tesla’s Autopilot system is safe as long as you use it within its capabilities. You need to stay alert and in the driver’s seat, and remember that you may need to take over at a moment’s notice. It should only be used on the motorway.

Read the latest on Tesla here, including the 2022 Tesla Model S Plaid.

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