State of the Self-Driving Car: Nobody Has Fully Self-Driving Cars
It seems that when it comes to autonomous vehicle technology, some of us are getting ahead of ourselves. As automakers release more self-driving vehicle systems, such as General Motors’ Super Cruise, Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist, and, of course, Tesla’s Autopilot, people are able to put more and more responsibility on the machinery to drive for them.
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However, if a recent incident on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco is any indication, it seems that some people need a reminder that, as much as our cars can do, we have no Level 4 autonomous driving systems – which is to say, no car on the road today is capable of completely taking over, allowing the driver (or, more accurately, passenger) to stop paying attention – or Level 5 autonomous driving systems, which is fully driverless automation.
The incident was the result of California Highway Patrol being called in for a Tesla which had stalled on the Bridge, and when officers arrived, they found a man passed out behind the wheel. When woken up, they found he had a BAC of more than twice the legal limit, and he told them that didn’t matter, because the Tesla was on Autopilot.
Except that yes, yes it does matter.
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All self-driving systems, whether they be Autopilot, Super Cruise, or ProPILOT, currently require an awake and aware driver, in case the system encounters something it can’t handle. So, if somehow the system senses the driver isn’t paying attention (if they are asleep, or passed out), then the car first tries to rouse attention and then brings the car gently to a stop.
None of these systems will drive you around on surface streets.
So, just as a reminder: no matter what marketing slogans may imply (Tesla’s promotional page for Autopilot proudly leads with the heading, “Full Self-Driving Hardware on All Cars,” even though Autopilot isn’t fully self-driving), there are no truly self-driving cars being sold right now. If you are above the limit for alcohol, even if you have a car equipped with one of these advanced driver assist systems, do not get behind the wheel – your car still needs you to drive.