If You Haven’t Used Autopilot Yet, Why Not? (3 Essentials)

Tesla vehicles using Autopilot, credit Tesla

I’ve been using Tesla Autopilot with every drive since 2019, and testing Full Self Driving beta (FSD beta) daily since June 2022.

This article is for everyone who has ever thought, “I love my Tesla, but I will never do Autopilot, it’s too scary.”  I am with you, it can be scary. 

This article covers 3 areas,

  1. Tesla Autopilot is safer than a human driving
  2. Enabling Autopilot during a drive is easy
  3. You can use Autopilot on your daily drives and disable it anytime during a drive

Tesla Autopilot is safer than a human driving

Elon Musk had a conversation on the Lex Fridman podcast about the processes that happen when a human drives,

"When you drive down the road, and try to think about what your brain is actually doing, consciously, it’s like, you’ll see a car, because you don’t have cameras, you don’t have eyes in the back of your head, or the side, so you say like, you’re basically, your head is like a, you basically have like two cameras on a slow gimbal.  
And eyesight is not that great, okay? 
Human eyes are… and people are constantly distracted and thinking about things and texting and doing all sorts of things they shouldn’t do in a car or changing the radio station, having arguments, haha. 
Like, when’s the last time you looked right and left?  Or rearward? Or even diagonally forward to actually refresh your vector space? 
So, you’re glancing around and what your mind is doing is trying to distill the relevant vectors, basically objects with a position in motion, and then editing that down to the least amount that’s necessary for you to drive."  Elon Musk

When Tesla Autopilot is engaged, all 8 cameras on the vehicle measure the surroudings without any distractions and use pure vision to drive as safe as possible. Looking into the future, Elon continues his conversation with Lex and says,

"The cars will maneuver with super human ability and reaction time, much faster than a human.
I think, over time, the Autopilot, Full Self Driving will be capable of maneuvers that are far more than what James Bond could do in like the best movie type of thing. It’s like, impossible maneuvers that a human couldn’t do." Elon Musk

The Tesla 2021 Impact Report emphasizes how much safer Autopilot is,

“Tesla vehicles are engineered for safety and when Autopilot is engaged safety is enhanced. 
 In 2021, we recorded 0.22 crashes for every million miles driven in which drivers were using Autopilot technology (Autosteer and active safety features). 
For drivers who were not using Autopilot technology (no Autosteer and active safety features), we recorded 0.77 crashes for every million miles driven. 
By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there are 1.81 automobile crashes for every million miles driven.”

Avoiding serious accidents when car is in Autopilot: 2 examples

In these 2 examples, major accidents were avoided because Tesla’s cameras and software slowed down the vehicle to avoid hitting cars that ran red lights. In both examples, the drivers did not notice the problem as quickly as Autopilot did.

Tesla’s software reacted quickly to avoid an accident at an intersection. credit @parzar1 on twitter who is testing FSD beta. Autopilot should react similar in this scenario.
Watch this video as Tesla vehicle slows down to avoid an accident.
I am sharing a personal experience with you.  After picking up a friend, I engaged Autopilot and we were waiting at a red light.  
As the light turned green, my Tesla moved into the intersection and my car suddenly made a warning sound and came to a stop.  
We did not see why until a Nissan zoomed right in front of us.  
My Tesla resumed moving as if nothing at all had happened.
We were shook, but the vehicle was not, and Autopilot got us safely home.  
My dashcam footage below shows the car pulling into the intersection while the light was red for them.  
You can see the Nissan running the red light below. 
Tesla’s software saw a car run a red light before the driver did, avoiding a major crash. credit, the author.
This chart created by Tesla for their 2021 Impact Report shows how much safer Autopilot is.

Enabling Autopilot during a drive is easy

Now that you may be considering using your car’s Autopilot, here are my simple suggestions for your Model Y or 3

  1. Start driving and then press down TWICE rapidly on the stalk.  Take your foot off the gas pedal and keep your hands on the wheel enough so the wheel FEELS slight torque.
  2. Practice also DISENGAGING the Autopilot by tugging on the steering wheel until you are comfortable with toggling between using it and not using it.  
  3. Use Autopilot as much as possible.  You will get better at using it with practice. Like any new technology, it will soon become second nature to you and you will master it before you know it.  
  4. I recommend watching the Tesla videos that explain it, here. And always, pay attention and be prepared to take over when using Autopilot or testing FSD beta.
Tesla Youtube explains how to engage Autopilot by pressing down TWICE rapidly on the stalk.

Let’s go back to my example above where we avoided getting T-boned in an intersection. It is important to engage Autopilot as much as possible when crossing through any intersections.  Accidents commonly happen in intersections so we all need maximum safety enabled. 

There were 35,766 fatalities and 1,593,390 injuries from crashes in 2020.
T-bone (angle) crashes led to 6,432 deaths in 2020.  
There were a total of 5,982 pedestrian fatalities from being struck by a car, NHTSA reported in their Overview of Motor Vehicle Crashes 2020.
NHTSA reported a staggering 42,915 fatalities from crashes in 2021 in their September 2022 report.*

Having Autopilot engaged will protect pedestrians from harm.  The 8 cameras on your Tesla capture images and weave them together to tell the computer the safest way to navigate when people are seen. Both pedestrian and T-bone type crashes cause the most deaths, and Autopilot helps us avoid these tragedies.

In my article, “Who Will Benefit Once Tesla Autonomy is Solved?”, I wrote about how Tesla expects the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars.

As you master Autopilot you will enjoy a higher level of safety.


  • Tesla Autopilot may seem scary at first, and it is worth getting over that fear. This is because if you drive a Tesla without using Autopilot, there are 0.77 crashes recorded for every million miles driven. But if you drive your Tesla with Autopilot engaged, there are only 0.22 crashes for every million miles driven.
  • To enable Autopilot, just press down twice rapidly on the stalk. I am thankful I did this before passing through an intersection where I was almost T-boned by a car who ran a red light.
  • In time, you will master using Autopilot as you learn to master any new technology. Toggling in and out of Autopilot is worth learning so that you can enjoy the highest level of safety for you, your family, friends and pedestrians around you.
Austin Texas by Christofer Sherman photography prints.

Want to read more excellent articles? I suggest…

Who Will Benefit Once Tesla Autonomy is Solved? I believe a world where autonomy is the norm is closer than we realize.  This article attempts to answer the question, who will benefit once Tesla autonomy is solved? 

5 Takeaways from Tesla’s 2022 Shareholder Meeting This article features highlights of what Elon Musk said about Tesla Gigafactories, AI, Cybertruck, Optimus robot, how we can help support the mission, and more.

Reasons Why Tesla Has the Best Factory Safety in the Industry This article will bring you along with me as we look into how Tesla has become a leader in job site safety in manufacturing. Our focus will be on statements about workplace safety from Elon Musk at the 2022 Shareholder’s meeting and the Tesla 2021 Impact Report. 

Meet the author, Gail Alfar. Taken at Giga Texas Cyber Roundup, August 4, 2022.

Gail Alfar, author, with editing by Abraham Alfar. Thank you to Chuck Cook for consultation on this article. Exclusive to What’s Up Tesla – September 24, 2022 this article was revised on September 25. –  All Rights Reserved. * NHTSA September 2022 report can be found at https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/813376


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21 thoughts on “If You Haven’t Used Autopilot Yet, Why Not? (3 Essentials)

  1. Honestly, I only have Autopilot (AP) in my model 3, but I’m not impressed. I think it’s good for highway driving, but too jerky (literal jerk x^3) for normal street driving. Yes, the car had more visual sensors than we as humans do, but the AI pattern recognition still needs more training. I’m also very disappointed with the recent announcements of the removal of yet another set of sensors (ultrasonic). I don’t believe that vision alone is the best course of action. Many species on earth have evolved multiple senses for a reason. Vision will always have bad situations like rain, snow, fog, etc. But if you have multiple senses everything in tandem, then you have both redundance and alternatives. The ultrasonics for example gives the car a basic “shield” that is extremely well known because of the multiple applications they have been used for in the past.
    The only way that I think vision alone would work is if Tesla is working on something like Fleet- or Mesh-Vision to add a communication layer between cars so that they work together to visualize the world.


  2. Phantom braking is still a problem. I don’t use FSD in traffic when they are tailgaters.
    There are problems that it changes speeds when there no signs. I have the latest map.


  3. In Chicago driving in the city it drives ok shit 60% if the time, drives like a 16 year-old on their first leathers permit 25% if the time, and drives like someone who is stoned out of their mind 15% if the time. That’s on each trip. I only use it to contribute to its improvement. Almost every trip is dangerous. On the highway though it’s great.


    • I agree with your description. The AP is too “jerky” as is both to quick to accelerate and too quick to slam on the brakes. Also, the statistics can be deceiving because most accidents happen on non-highways where there are intersections but most AP miles are still mainly on the highway because that was how it was originally rolled out.


  4. I use AP for auto steer, but it doesn’t slow down as soon as I would for a vehicle stopped in front of me. It appears it wants to slam on the brakes. My other cars stop much more gently. If FSD is supposed to be so safe, why does it cost so much? Tesla/Elon should be all for safety and not price it far out of this elderly retiree’s reach. Really lubricious since I can’t just transfer it to a new Tesla since the resale value of FSD is really low.


    • I agree with your description. The AP is too “jerky” as is both to quick to accelerate and too quick to slam on the brakes. Also, the statistics can be deceiving because most accidents happen on non-highways where there are intersections but most AP miles are still mainly on the highway because that was how it was originally rolled out.


      • Because you don’t actually own your car. Using features like that will eventually replace fuel savings as you will then be monetized, monthly, for features that you will never “own.”
        Just check out “Do You Own Your EV?” on YouTube.


    • Auto pilots works great, but sometimes it behaves weird. Few times it automatically stopped all of sudden, and sometimes it gave a voice prompt that it is not able to engage auto pilot. When I contacted Tesla, they wanted to know exact seconds when these problems happened. One time the car stopped dead on the highway and I had to try resetting few times before it started working again


  5. I like auto pilot however I find it very annoying that it dis-engages every time you change lanes. When you use on your turn signal it should stay engaged just like cars with lane keeping assist/adaptive cruise.


  6. The last FSD software version has some serious defects. Everyone should be very careful. While on a 555 mile trip, last Friday, we had 22 phantom breaking occasions. Some while on an Interstate driving 75mph. That was very dangerous when we were in front of an 18 wheeler.


  7. I wish you would distinguish between Autopilot and FSD. I have Autopilot without FSD and all it is is adaptive cruise control with autosteer. Only for the highway. Mixing these terms is confusing.


  8. It was hard to learn to trust the NOA. But over time I learned to let the car do it’s thing. I love using it. FSD beta is getting better, but still makes some “unexpected” moves that require monitoring and/or immediate intervention. Some of it is just learning to trust the car again after the last update. Again, it takes time to learn how the car reacts.

    Liked by 1 person

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