Tesla’s Autopilot technology is undeniably incredible and is miles ahead of its competitors. Other brands like Audi, Ford, and GM are reluctant to go too far with their autonomous driving technology. Still, Tesla was brave enough to make it a common feature and hasn’t been shy about proclaiming its greatness since it was created in 2015.
It, of course, beggars the question: can Tesla Autopilot drive you home drunk? This is a tricky one to answer. Technically, it can drive you home drunk, but it really shouldn’t. It would be against the law to do so. Plus, it won’t drive you home well, and you – or your Tesla – may not make it home in one piece.
Also, Tesla’s Autopilot has not yet evolved to the SAE level 3 of autonomy in self-driving cars, although their new ‘Full Self-Driving Computer’ launched in 2020 is close to hitting that mark, at level 2.
To put that into perspective, level 2 is the third stage of six in the SAE scale of autonomous driving capabilities. Level 2 technology still requires input from a human driver to function safely. Plus, Tesla’s own requirements insist that a component human that is legally allowed to drive is behind the wheel and watching the road while Autopilot is engaged.
You can find plenty of footage on YouTube of Tesla drivers taking full advantage of all their Autopilot has to offer, and with some success.
Assuming you enter your correct home address into the navigation system and can start the car and get it moving, the Autopilot system could navigate you home, but that still doesn’t put to rest all the legal difficulties surrounding this question.
You need to start your car and begin moving before you can activate Autopilot. You do this by pulling the right stalk down twice, and you have to already be on the road to do this. Autopilot takes over your driving after a direction and speed have been established.
It can increase and reduce your speed and handle basic steering, but it’s not fully capable in every driving situation, which is why a competent driver needs to be in the driver’s seat.
Tesla’s own guidelines regarding Autopilot are crystal clear. Below you’ll find some important extracts that explain why Tesla Autopilot couldn’t legally drive you home while drunk:
“Do I still need to pay attention while using Autopilot? Yes. Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver.” “[Autopilot] does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.” “Before enabling Autopilot, you must agree to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times and to always maintain control and responsibility for your car.'”Telsa Autopilot Guidance
Tesla also reminds us that you can interrupt Autopilot any time by using the steering wheel, applying the brakes, or using the activation stalk to deactivate the Autopilot. To do any of these, you would need to be capable of driving. When you’re drunk, you are not legally capable of driving.
Furthermore, a drunk person is not allowed to be in control of a vehicle, and Tesla also states clearly that just because Autopilot is activated, that doesn’t make your Tesla autonomous.
So when you activate Autopilot, you don’t transfer responsibility to the car.
The limitations of Autopilot
To further understand why Autopilot can’t drive you home drunk, we need to know the system’s technical limitations. Even with the 2020 upgrade to Full Self-Driving (FSD) Mode, your Tesla is not a fully self-driving car.
In fact, it’s bold of Tesla to call it Full Self-Driving mode, when the company has admitted that despite all the hype, FSD is still only SAE level 2.
In December 2020, Tesla’s own associate general counsel, Eric C. Williams, said:
“Currently neither Autopilot nor FSD capability is an autonomous system, and currently no comprising feature, whether singularly or collectively, is autonomous or makes our vehicles autonomous.”Eric C. Williams
He also refuted Elon Musk’s claim that Tesla was close to level 5 autonomy, saying:
“As you know, Autopilot is an optional suite of driver-assistance features that are representative of SAE level 2 automation… Full Self-Driving (FSD) capability is an additional optional suite of features that builds from Autopilot and is also representative of SAE level 2.”Eric C. Williams
So even the latest and very expensive ‘Full Self-Driving mode is actually an evolution within SAE level 2. Tesla is yet to reach level 3, which is a feat currently only achieved by Honda with their Honda Legend only available in Japan. This car is not due to be sold widely yet and is being reserved and trialed with 100 lease models.
There are also further limitations of Autopilot we need to get our heads around. Looking at Tesla’s own guidelines, it states that Autopilot is unable to do its job in poor visibility caused by the following:
- Poor visibility due to heavy rain, snow, or fog.
- Mud, ice, and snow.
- Extreme heat and cold.
- Bright light from direct sunlight or glare on wet roads.
- Bright light from oncoming vehicles using full-beam headlight.
- Narrow, high curvature, or winding roads.
- Interference or obstruction by objects mounted onto the vehicle. For example, a bike rack.
- Obstructions caused by excessive paint or adhesive products on the car’s surface.
- Damaged or misaligned bumper.
- Interference from other equipment generating ultrasonic waves.
While these factors impair Autopilot’s ability to function, Tesla also admits there could be other factors too. When combined with the visual and mental impairment that comes from heavy alcohol consumption, you can see why letting Autopilot drive you home drunk is a terrible, dangerous idea.
While Tesla’s Autopilot is an incredible feat of technology, it is just another ADAS feature. Admittedly, it’s a very sophisticated ADAS feature, but it is still just an assistance feature.
Tesla still has a long way to go when it comes to automotive autonomy. While we’re sure they’ll get there eventually, in the meantime, it’s important not to get carried away by dangerous YouTube videos and to take marketing hype with a pinch of salt.