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3 May 2019

Tesla Model 3: don't be fooled by 'full self-driving' claims

Is the Tesla Model 3 ad misleading?

We should be jumping for joy at the arrival of the Tesla Model 3; it's the first car from the electric car pioneer with a sub-£40,000 price, opening up the brand to far more people than before. But there's something you need to know about one of its claims.

Those who had excitedly signed up for email alerts so they'd know when the Tesla Model 3 was available to order in the UK would have received a tempting message. It promises that those who order 'before 10th May will save £1,000 on Full Self-Driving'.

No asterisk, no disclaimer. Just 'Full Self-Driving'.

Except it's not self-driving. It's not autonomous. And it wouldn't be legal in the UK if it was.

Want an electric car? See our pick of the best electric cars for 2019.

What is a self-driving car?

Fully self-driving cars, technically, are cars that would not require a steering wheel or pedals, let along a human behind the wheel. But there are differing levels of automation, from 0 (no assistance at all), to level 5 - full automation.

The key bit is that the monitoring of the driving environment around the car is done by a human in levels 1 and 2, but by the car itself from level 3 upwards.

Anything above level 2 would not be legal in the UK

Fully self-driving cars are illegal in the UK

UK law says you must not rely on driver assistance systems.

While the government is developing a process to support manufacturers to trial driverless cars on UK roads by 2021, drivers today must remain in control of their car.

From rule 150 of the Highway Code, which has been updated this year to reflect emerging driver assist technology:

  • Do not rely on driver assistance systems such as motorway assist, lane departure warnings, or remote control parking. They are available to assist but you should not reduce your concentration levels.
  • As the driver, you are still responsible for the vehicle if you use a driver assistance system (like motorway assist).

Even Tesla's own website admits 'Full self-driving' doesn't exist

Once you click through from the Tesla email that says 'All Model 3 orders placed before 10th May will save £1,000 on Full Self-Driving', you can start configuring your new Model 3. You will then see this part of the disclaimer when you click through to the autopilot bit online:

'The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous.'

It also admits that there's still some way to go before you can expect your Tesla Model 3, which was advertised as coming with 'Full Self-Driving', will actually be fully self driving:

'The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions.

'As these self-driving features evolve, your car will be continuously upgraded through over-the-air software updates.'

Tesla at its Autonomy day presentation did confirm the vehicles being made today will be capable of level 5 autonomy in the future, after software updates and laws allow. But they aren't capable of full autonomy today.

See all of our Tesla car reviews.

Why people might believe this Tesla Model 3 could drive itself

More than half of UK car drivers believe it's already possible to buy a car that can drive itself, a survey commissioned last year by safety organisations Thatcham Research and Euro NCAP revealed.

A third of global respondents said that they would be tempted to send a text while using assisted-driving systems. And one in ten believe they can have a quick nap at the wheel.

To sell a car that has technology dubbed 'Full Self-Driving' will fuel that misconception. It could also encourage drivers to use a system dubbed self-driving as exactly that - which makes it dangerous and irresponsible.

Tesla criticised in automated driving tests

It's not just names such as 'Autopilot' and 'Full Self-Driving' that make drivers believe the car is capable of operating by itself. It's also the way the current driver assists work, and encourage the driver to rely on the automated driving system.

Last year, Euro NCAP and Thatcham Research ran a series of tests to see how automated driver assists coped in specific situations.

In the 'pothole test', cars using their automated systems drove along a straight road. Then the driver would steer round an obstacle, before steering back into lane and allowing the car to automatically resume control of the steering.

Almost all cars let the driver take control of the steering easily, and then resumed steering as the driver directed the back into its lane. The exception was the Tesla.

In the test, Tesla's Autopilot system in the Model S resisted the drivers input at first, and then deactivated the system completely.

Euro NCAP say the system reacting in this way encourages the driver to rely on the system rather than providing their own input.

By comparison, the technology in the new Toyota Corolla 'readily accommodated' the driver's input to get around the obstacle, and then subsequently resumed assisting the driver to keep the car in lane.

Why we still need human drivers (for now)

The most challenging of Euro NCAP's tests assessed whether autonomous systems could deal with two specific situations:

  • A car suddenly cutting into the same lane as the test car
  • A car suddenly cutting out of lane directly in front of you to avoid a stalled car, leaving the automated vehicle very little time to react.

None of the systems tested, including Tesla's, were able to sufficiently help in these scenarios.

It was summarised in the tests that crashes could only be avoided if an alert driver braked or steered away from trouble.

Tesla: please call it something else

Which? cars expert Adrian Porter said: 'If car isn't fully self-driving, don't call it 'full self-driving'. Even if it will be capable in the future, don't call it that now.

'Our surveys show that current owners are besotted with their Tesla cars. Year-on-year it's the brand with the highest satisfaction rating and therefore we should be celebrating the release of its latest, and most affordable electric car to date.

'Instead, because of the way Tesla markets its cars, we're warning would-be owners who might be suckered in by its potentially misleading ad.'

What does Tesla say?

We approached Tesla for comment and a spokesperson referred us to its website.

What driver assist functions does the Tesla Model 3 have?

So if the Tesla Model 3 doesn't actually drive itself, what does it do? Here is a list of current and future capabilities listed under the new 'Full Self-Driving Capability'


  • Enables your car to steer, accelerate and brake automatically for other vehicles and pedestrians within its lane.

'Full Self-Drive' capability

  • Navigate on Autopilot: It can also automatically drive from motorway on-ramp to off-ramp including interchanges and overtaking slower cars.
  • Auto lane change: automatic lane changes while driving on the motorway.
  • Autopark: both parallel and perpendicular spaces.
  • Summon: your parked car will come find you anywhere in a car park.

Coming later this year

  • Recognise and respond to traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Automatic driving on city streets.

Describing the car as 'full self-drive' could mislead people into thinking they can let their attention drift when using the above features.

For instance, just because your new Tesla is capable of changing lanes or using motorway on and off ramps or parking itself, it doesn't mean you can let your attention wander while the car carries out the task.

As described in the Highway Code, Rule 150, you are responsible - not the car.

Tesla's 'Summon' feature not as described

In the Model 3 configuration tool, which allows you to configure and buy your new Model 3, the Summon feature is described as 'your parked car will come find you anywhere in a car park. Really.'

Except not really.

It's only intended for use on private property, operating up to a maximum distance of 12 metres. It also can't see narrow objects like bicycles.

When we approached Tesla for comment, we were referred to the manual for the Model S, which also has the Summon feature. This is what the manual states:

  • Summon is a BETA feature. Summon is designed and intended for use only on private property
  • When using Summon, you must continually monitor the vehicle.
  • Summon has a maximum distance of 12 meters
  • Model S cannot detect obstacles that are located lower than the bumper, are very narrow (i.e. bicycles)

We are investigating whether the claims are in breach of the Consumer Protection Regulations, or UK advertising standards.

The 5 different levels of car automation

Find out more about driverless cars.