Tesla recently announced changes to their autopilot feature. Apparently Tesla owners have been driving hands-free in what were described as “dangerous situations”. Their new software update will not allow the use of autopilot on residential streets or roads without a center divider. Of course, when I read the article my first thought was work zones. The entire Wall Street Journal article can be accessed here.
The offending Tesla owners were playing with the feature and showing off for friends and social media, taking and posting photos as the car drove itself down the road. Another set of drivers drove from Los Angeles to New York in less than 58 hours often cruising at 90 MPH and operated autonomously 96% of the time (see Wired article HERE). Clearly these behaviors are inadvisable. But the same can be said when they pass through work zones where changing conditions, sudden stops or lane reductions, and narrow lanes and missing shoulders all make avoiding collisions much more difficult.
The automobile industry has sold this idea of graduated steps up in autonomy as a way of safely moving from full driver control to full vehicle control in small increments. The idea is that we will learn important lessons along the way. But one way that is already happening is drivers “testing” the technology. You have to see what it can do, right? Still, one would hope they won’t try this in work zones. But common sense is not always so common.
There are many potential dangers where automated/autonomous vehicles interact with work zones. We are beginning, as an industry, to discuss those. Sounds like we had better ask automakers to restrict autopilot use in work zones, as well.