Semi-autonomous Cars — An Advanced Driving Course for Chauffeurs in their Employer’s Tesla

Given that at Advanced Drivers of North America [ADoNA] we teach defensive and advanced driving, the use of assistance features which reduce the tasks and sadly also the concentration of drivers is not a key area for us.  (How new safety technology might actually be making our driving worse.)

That aspect, however, is not the theme of this write-up.  Instead, I will focus on the Tesla being driven normally, with the minimum of automated features and with maximum smoothness for the chauffeur context plus, of course, maximum regard for driving safely

A Tesla S that we used on an ADoNA advanced driving "safety and smoothness" course for chauffeurs, looking good in a color that's close to the famed "British Racing Green."
The Tesla Model S 85 used on an advanced driving “safety and smoothness” course for chauffeurs, looking good in a color that’s close to the famed “British Racing Green”. (Copyright image)

 In the photograph above, the door handles are pulled in, flush with the doors, and the exterior mirrors have been swung inwards towards the windows, to minimize any risk of them being damaged while the vehicle is parked.  As you approach the vehicle with the ‘key’ — a lozenge-shaped, plastic covered object — in your pocket or purse, the exterior mirrors and the door handles move outwards to their correct positions, and the vehicle unlocks (see the next photograph).

Photograph showing the The door handles and exterior mirrors out in position, ready for use.
Ready for use. The door handles and exterior mirrors move out automatically as the driver approaches the vehicle. (Copyright image.)

The first thing that is immediately noticeable when getting the car ready to move off is the absolute silence and zero vibration.  Even though the car is ready to go, there is rather obviously no engine noise at all, and the first time this happens you may find yourself looking for a clue — any clue — that anything is happening.   But simply do the usual essential tasks:  adjust the seat, steering position and mirrors, pop your belt on, select forward or reverse on a steering column stalk control, check all around for safety and signal if appropriate, press gently on the accelerator, and in magic-carpet-style silence, away you go.  (Be aware that the parking brake is a completely hidden function.  It automatically switches itself on when you terminate a journey and just as automatically switches itself off again when you press that accelerator pedal to move off.)

Photograph of the Tesla hood insignia.
The Tesla insignia.

With all electrically-powered vehicles the silence aspect, in itself, can be a safety issue because nobody can hear your car approaching.  As a result, there are times when it is very important to be willing to use the horn (and we teach how to do that not only for the best safety outcome but also with the least likelihood of annoying anyone who is too easily upset by such things).

Photograph of the huge central display which contains everything except the most obvious vehicle controls. Here, the reversing camera view occupies just the top half of the screen.
The central display is huge — this is just the top half — and it contains everything except the most obvious vehicle controls. Here, the reversing camera gives an excellent view, but don’t forget the shoulder checks! (Copyright image.)
The central display screen on the Tesla Model S 85 is huge and here is displaying the GPS map, in night mode.
The GPS map — here in night mode — can occupy either the full display screen or just the top half. (Copyright image)

Apart from the obvious controls, such as steering, footbrake, accelerator, turn signals, gear selector (which offers only the options for Drive and Reverse), the wipers, high & low beam, seat and steering position settings, and the horn, virtually every other control can be found in the central display screen, which in turn is huge and very clear to view.

Like all computer operating systems, these days, adjusting the various settings is simply a case of finding the right key words then following a logical sequence of options — but naturally this must only be done when the car is stopped and in a safe location.  In addition, a surprising array of options may also be linked to your cell phone, if you like an even more personalized touch.  As mentioned at the start of this article, though, these facilities are not what this high-level driving course was about.

It is worth remembering that the car we were using was bought for it to be used by chauffeurs, but it is also driven by its owners who undoubtedly enjoy taking it for a run themselves on occasion.  The chauffeur aspect effectively guarantees that it is by no means a small vehicle, and its width is very noticeable when you are getting ready to drive it for the first time.  This applies to a lot of superb cars and only requires that you get used to the dimensions before driving in tight confines.

Photograph of the sleek-looking headlight unit on the Tesla Model S 85.
Sleek headlight units are common nowadays on a lot of cars, and these on the Tesla Model S 85 are no exception. (Copyright image.)

In gasoline-powered cars, the act of easing off the gas triggers something called engine braking, in which the reduced speed of the engine itself helps to slow down the vehicle.  In true advanced driving, the increase or decrease of pressure on the gas pedal is all known as “acceleration sense,” using the word acceleration in more of a physics and engineering context.  Interestingly, in the Tesla, the act of easing off or completely coming off the accelerator altogether, had a significantly greater engine-braking effect than in any other of the thousands of cars I have driven.  But while this may be disconcerting to someone not expecting such an effect and can result in the car slowing down too vigorously or too soon, it can in fact be used to very good effect for immensely smooth speed control.  I liked it a lot!

Photograph of a Tesla Model S 85, beyond one of the company's recharging'pumps."
Our Tesla receiving an astonishing 25 percent battery charge in just ten minutes — more than enough to complete that day’s lengthy training drive. The charging points look sufficiently different to gasoline pumps to prevent any confusion! (Copyright image.)

The Tesla we were using was over four years old but none-the-less could cover a very useful distance before recharging the batteries became necessary.  On one of the driving days, however, we did get to the point where a “top-up” became the wise choice to get us home, so it was simply a case of stopping at a Tesla recharging station, where a 25 percent boost to power can be had in just ten minutes (see the above photo).

Rear three-quarter view of a Tesla Model S 85 sedan.
Good looking from any angle, the Tesla Model S 85, a very enjoyable car to drive. (Copyright image.)

Other than that, overnight charging is the norm with all electrically-powered cars, and the Tesla is no exception.

All I can say is that I greatly enjoyed this vehicle and hope that I get to spend a lot more time in one in the not-to-distant future, and perhaps the opportunity to do a full safety review.

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For more details of our defensive and advanced safe driving courses, click here, and feel free to contact us from that page with any questions.

Author: EddieWren

Eddie Wren is the CEO and Chief Instructor at Advanced Drivers of North America. His driver safety background is given at: http://www.advanceddrivers.com/ceochief-instructors-resumecvbio/

2 thoughts on “Semi-autonomous Cars — An Advanced Driving Course for Chauffeurs in their Employer’s Tesla”

  1. Hi Eddie,

    I have had the great fortune of driving a Tesla Model S for the last 18 months or so (about 45,000 miles). I agree with all your points around the driving experience, especially concerning acceleration sense. I have used the other advanced driver assistance features (so-called ‘Autopilot’) enough to decide when it is useful and when it is less so. On a divided highway (dual carriageway) the driver assistance is helpful in maintaining a safe following distance, keeping to the center of the lane, and adhering to the speed limit during light traffic at or near the speed limit. I also find it useful in traffic jams where stop and go tedium is relieved, and I find I am less susceptible to stress. I have found the assistance less useful, and even troublesome on winding rural single carriageway roads, where positioning to the safety line is not in the programming. However, the electric drivetrain is really pleasant on those roads, as you can accelerate very adequately as the road flattens out.
    There is some criticism surrounding the range of these vehicles, but I think Tesla has it about right, in that the driver is forced to take a break on a long journey. At highway/motorway speed the maximum possible driving time is just under 4 hours. My weekly commute is about 330 miles. I stop about halfway to stretch my legs and take a ‘bio-break’. A 20 to 30 min charge adds over 100 miles of range. From an engineering perspective that is about optimal for battery longevity, as well as minimizing the total journey time. Even after 18 months this vehicle is such a different experience and I am still enjoying it as I did when I took delivery.

    Perhaps I should drive to Buffalo soon, as I need to do a refresher with you 🙂

    1. Thanks for your excellent points, John. They are very welcome.
      As for you doing a refresher to your existing ‘Silver Advanced’ or a possible upgrade to ‘Gold’ you would be very welcome to do that, too. However, we are no longer based at Buffalo. We are now 300 miles further east, at the NY state capital of Albany (nicely located for driving in the Adirondacks, the Catskill Mountains, western Massachusetts — with its own fabulous roads, and hands for New York City, too). It would probably need to be 1-1 training if you want to consider it, but let me know if you’re interested and we can talk it through.

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