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.


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.

Crash & Bull Bars on Vehicles Cause Far More Danger than they Prevent

Often bought in the name of safety, it is a fact that crash bars or bull bars can actually create greater danger not only for pedestrians, bicyclists and other vulnerable road users who get hit, but also for people traveling in the vehicles to which the bars are fitted.

Photo of a former police Ford Crown Victoria now being used as a taxi, but with crash bars still fitted.
Because of the dangers created by crash bars (a.k.a. bull bars) it is wrong that former U.S. law enforcement vehicles can be sold to the public with the bars still fitted. This should be banned. (Copyright image)

Continue reading “Crash & Bull Bars on Vehicles Cause Far More Danger than they Prevent”

USA: Police Chief Attacks Proposed Increase in Size of Big Rigs

Excerpt: [A chief of police in Wisconsin] has serious concerns with proposals in Congress that would allow heavier and longer rigs on  highways because these proposals would dramatically increase the danger faced by everyday drivers.

Photo looking down on a fast-moving semi-tractor-trailer.
Semi-tractor-trailer. Copyright image.

The proposal calls for increasing trucks weights nationwide from 80,000 to 91,000 pounds, and another calls for increasing the length of double-trailer trucks by 10 feet, to 91 feet in length.

…Bigger trucks may mean increased profit margins for the handful of companies that would benefit, they also pose substantial safety risks to motorists…

Read the full opinion-piece from the Gazette Extra on this important topic.

ADoNA Comments

Already more than 4,000 people are killed each year in the USA in crashes involving large trucks.  One factor in this bad scenario is the long hours that drivers are allowed to work, behind the wheel, each week — far more than in other countries that have much lower road-death rates than does America.  Making trucks larger and therefor even harder to stop should be seen as an extra factor that is likely to increase the number of deaths even further.

Eddie Wren, CEO & Chief InstructorAdvanced Drivers of North America

Top-10 Safest *Used* Cars, on a Budget — UK & USA

Buying a safe second-hand car at a reasonable price is always a challenge; the very fact that they aren’t the latest models immediately mitigates against them, and of course the older a car is, the more this typically counts against it.

Volvo V40 XC  (Photo Volvo Cars)

In Britain, safety experts Thatcham Research have collated the results for cars which cost under £15,000 to buy second hand, have a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating and CO2 emissions below 120g/km.

One thing of great interest is how much safety can be added by means of extra ‘packages’ at the time the car is first purchased.  See Nos. 1 and 10, below.

In all countries, it is immensely wise to consult the relevant NCAP safety ratings, which in Britain is Euro-NCAP.  Here in the USA, check these links, and make sure to check the correct year of manufacture for any used-car purchase you might be interested in:

Top 10 safest used cars in the UK now

  1. Volvo V40 with IntelliSafe safety pack (2012-)
  2. Mazda 3 (2016-)
  3. Toyota Auris (2015-)
  4. Volkswagen Golf SV (2014-)
  5. BMW 2 Series Active Tourer (2014-)
  6. Volkswagen Touran (2015-)
  7. Volkswagen Golf (2013-)
  8. Nissan Qashqai (2014-)
  9. Peugeot 308 (2014-)
  10. Volvo V40 (2012-)

Full UK source article, from Auto Express

Odometer Fraud in the USA — a half million cases a year!


It’s a crime to alter a vehicle’s odometer. NHTSA estimates that more than 450,000 vehicles are sold each year with false odometer (i.e. mileage) readings, which costs American used-car buyers more than $1 billion annually. We want consumers to know what odometer fraud is, how to spot it, and who to contact if you think you’re a victim of this illegal behavior.

A How-To Guide for Odometer Fraud Detection

It can be difficult, but not impossible, to detect when a vehicle’s odometer has been altered. The following is a list of tips to help used car buyers detect odometer fraud:
  • Ask to see the title and compare the mileage on it with the vehicle’s odometer. Be sure to examine the title closely if the mileage notation seems obscured or is not easy to read.
  • Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage indicated on the vehicle’s maintenance or inspection records. Also, search for oil change and maintenance stickers on windows or door frames, in the glove box or under the hood.
  • Check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If they’re crooked, contain gaps or jiggle when you bang on the dash with your hand, walk away from the purchase.
  • Examine the tires. If the odometer on your car shows 20,000 or less, it should have the original tires.
  • Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle — especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals — to be sure it seems consistent with and appropriate for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.
  • Request a CARFAX Vehicle History Report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle’s history. If the seller does not have a vehicle history report, use the car’s VIN to order a CARFAX vehicle history report online.

Odometer Fraud Law

Committing odometer fraud is a crime. The federal government passed a law that requires a written disclosure of the mileage registered on an odometer be provided by the seller to the purchaser on the title to the vehicle when the ownership of a vehicle is transferred. If the odometer mileage is incorrect, the law requires a statement to that effect to be furnished on the title to the buyer. However, vehicles ten years and older are exempt from the written disclosure requirements.

Digital Odometers

Digital odometers that have been tampered with are even harder to detect than traditional mechanical odometers (since they have no visible moving parts). A vehicle’s condition and a detailed history report are the best clues a buyer has for determining whether clocking has occurred.


Source:  NHTSA