First time using the controversial driving software

  • I tried Autopilot, Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, in the Model Y SUV.
  • It automatically steers to follow curves in the road and keeps pace with traffic.
  • It would be a welcome tool on long and boring highway rides.

Elon Musk says it all the time: Tesla is so much a software company since it is a car manufacturer.

Whether you agree or not, the company’s most talked-about and controversial piece of technology is undoubtedly Autopilot.

Many Tesla owners swear by the semi-automatic driving function. At the same time, the federal government is investigating accidents where cars with Autopilot collided with parked emergency vehicles. Some security experts argue that the Autopilot name instills too much trust in the system, as it is not autonomous.

Needless to say, I was eager to test Autopilot myself when I recently reviewed a Tesla Model Y.

What is Autopilot and is it self-driving?

The Tesla Model Y electric SUV.

The Tesla Model Y.

Tim Levin/Insider


Autopilot, first released in 2014, is an advanced driver assistance system that relies on a series of cameras to “see” the surrounding traffic and take over some driving tasks. In short, it’s a smarter version of cruise control that adapts speed to the vehicle in front and steers to follow curves in the road.

Musk has promised that self-driving Teslas have been around the corner for years, but it still hasn’t happened. Autopilot (as well as similar features from other brands) is level 2 on the generally accepted five levels of driving automation, meaning it requires full human supervision. In a level 5 car, passengers can take a nap while the vehicle does 100% of the work.

Autopilot is standard on all Teslas. It differs from the company’s more expensive Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features, which offer additional capabilities but still don’t offer full autonomy.

What’s it like to use?

The Tesla Model Y.

The Tesla Model Y.

Tim Levin/Insider


Autopilot performed impressively well for a few hours of driving on divided highways and some two-lane roads. Full disclosure: This short test took place in daylight under ideal weather conditions.

After pressing the right lever twice, Autopilot was activated almost immediately every time. Some other systems I’ve tried can take a few seconds to lock into the lane lines. Braking or pushing the lever up will disengage the system.

The autopilot confidently kept the SUV in the middle of its lane with no hesitation or jitters. He followed corners in the road well, but I felt he took some corners too fast for comfort. It naturally reacted to other cars, slowing down with traffic and accelerating once things cleared up. With the right scroll wheel on the steering wheel you can easily set the cruising speed. The few times another car melted in front of the Tesla, Autopilot responded well.

The Tesla Model Y.

The Tesla Model Y.

Tim Levin/Insider


A handy visualization on the car’s touchscreen shows what the vehicle sees, including other cars and traffic cones. When Autopilot is enabled, the screen displays a blue steering wheel icon and the lane lines are highlighted in blue. But I wish the Model Y had a driver display. In this way, one could view the status of Autopilot – including the set speed and whether it detects the vehicle in front – without looking away from the road.

Tesla owners often complain about their cars whining to keep their hands on the wheel when Autopilot is on, but I didn’t find that a problem. By keeping a little pressure on the steering wheel, the car knows that you are busy.

What is the verdict?

The Tesla Model Y.

The Tesla Model Y.

Tim Levin/Insider


Autopilot is excellent on highways and can be a great asset on long, monotonous road trips. I have not experienced the phantom braking error reported by Tesla owners.

However, it is essential to understand the limitations of the system. Autopilot technically works on any road with visible lane lines, but it’s not always advisable. For example, it activates on roads with traffic lights, but does not respond to them. I used Autopilot a bit on non-highway roads, but found it disconcerting not to be in full control in those unpredictable environments.

Ford and General Motors ensure that their systems are used only in optimal situations by limiting functionality to approved highways.

Maybe one day a Tesla will actually be able to drive itself (this year, if you are to believe Elon Musk). But that future is probably still a long way off.