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I tried Tesla FSD

Some screaming was involved

5 min read


So, let’s get this out of the way first: I drive a Tesla Model 3. Yes, I know. And yes, even though I bought it a few years ago, there was plenty of evidence of the CEO’s bad behavior and of poor conditions in the factories. And I let my desire to drive an electric car override all that, and it was a poor decision, and now I’m stuck with it because it was also a very bad financial decision and it’s depreciated at such a rate that the diff of the value of the car and the remaining value of my car loan are not in a good place. It was silly. Can we just accept that? Okay, thank you. Moving on.

This month Tesla switched Full Self Driving (FSD) on .. as far as I can tell, every single car. It’s normally a five figure software-only upgrade, which you can pay for up-front or at the ongoing subscription price of $199 a month. But usage of the feature has been low, perhaps in part because if you’ve spent $40-90,000 on a car, spending another five figure sum is annoying, and perhaps in part because people generally value their own lives and the lives of the people they love. So now, for this month only, it’s free, and Tesla can juice their numbers.

And, yes, I tried it.

And let me be clear: nope. Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope.

I’ve rarely been so frightened behind the wheel of my own car. As an experience it ranks right up there with driving that one stretch of the 880 where you’re supposed to go at 45mph and everybody drives twice that, the time I was riding in a Lyft and was jackknifed by a tow truck, or that one time I was driving on the 101 North and a tech bro Lamborghini shot out of the Highway 12 offramp and came within two inches of hitting me, spun around in the road, and careened off into the distance.

To be added to those heart-stopping experiences soon, I have to surmise, is being hit by a Tesla in Full Self Driving Mode.

Unlike my Lambo encounter, I was driving at 25mph down my local road to the store. On this 10 minute drive (5 minutes there and back), my car clung surprisingly close to cars parked on the side of the road — but more importantly, I had to intervene once because, on a stretch of road that had been coned off and narrowed into one lane for both directions, it felt like the car was driving directly into an oncoming vehicle. It’s possible (and, in fact, quite likely) that the car wouldn’t have smashed into the oncoming Subaru. But it felt like it was about to, and I had no desire to make it a scientific test. FSD requires you to keep your hands on the wheel — a lean-back experience this is not — so safely intervening was very natural. The car then asks you to leave a recorded message explaining why you intervened, and the struggle is to use words instead of screaming over and over.

What’s particularly surprising to me is that FSD wasn’t just downloaded to my vehicle — it was switched on by default. At no point did I need to agree to the terms and conditions. All I needed to do was enter a destination into the navigation and pull the gear stalk down once (as if I was simply changing into another gear), and off it went. Autopilot, which is what Tesla calls its cruise control feature, is engaged in a very similar way, so I can see a world where a driver might even switch it on unintentionally.

So would I pay the money for it? Fear on this level seems like a pretty poor use of $12,000 or $199 a month. You can rent a horror movie for $2.99, and paying attention to America is free. But clearly I was curious. Genuinely, if the technology improved to the point where I didn’t feel like I was probably going to die, I would happily sit inside a self-driving vehicle. Less so, perhaps, for going to the store, but definitely for road trips. (Can you imagine an autonomous RV? It would cost an arm and a leg, but if I had the money, I would 100% use one to get across country.) Right now, though, I would rather pour vinegar onto my eyeballs. For those readers who don’t need to think hard about dropping $12,000 — I am not one of them — I would encourage you to spend the money on more caviar or whatever. This ain’t it.

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