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Consumer Reports blasts Tesla's automatic lane changing as 'less competent' than humans

This optional part of Navigate by Autopilot raised concerns over certain behaviors.

It's a weird situation to be in, expecting a driver to be as vigilant as they would when in full command of the vehicle, despite the system's whole intent being to reduce the tedium of driving by taking on some of the work.

Tesla's Navigate on Autopilot system adds even more functionality to the automaker's lane-holding system, including automatic lane changes and navigating on- and off-ramps. While it worked fine for us on a very brief drive shortly after release, Consumer Reports put it under the microscope and, well, the outlet didn't exactly like what it found.

Consumer Reports did not have kind things to say about Navigate on Autopilot and its optional automatic lane-changing after a thorough test of its capabilities. "The system's role should be to help the driver, but the way this technology is deployed, it's the other way around," said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at CR, as part of its report. "It's incredibly nearsighted. It doesn't appear to react to brake lights or turn signals, it can't anticipate what other drivers will do, and as a result, you constantly have to be one step ahead of it."

Earlier in May, Consumer Reports' own Model 3 (that it purchased for testing purposes) received the software update that enabled Navigate on Autopilot. After taking several highway trips in its home state of Connecticut, CR found issue with the automatic lane-changing system in particular, saying the car was taking a few too many risks and changing lanes too closely to other cars. It also made passes on the right, which is illegal in certain states.

In addition, Fisher and his team found that the system was "reluctant to merge in heavy traffic," and when it did, it would occasionally apply the brakes immediately after merging to put some space between it and the car ahead, which can be surprising to drivers behind the Tesla. "[Automatic lane changing] isn't a convenience at all," Fisher said. "Monitoring the system is much harder than just changing lanes yourself." It's worth noting that the system is optional, so people who don't like it can turn it off and make lane changes like normal.

Tesla did not immediately return a request for comment, but it did provide some statements to Consumer Reports. The statements mostly revolved around how its data shows that people are enjoying the system and then, when used "properly," Navigate on Autopilot can "offer comparable levels of safety" both with and without automatic lane changes enabled. The automaker also stressed that all final decisions are still in the drivers' hands, leaving them as the final bastions of responsibility when the system is active.

Originally published May 22.
Update, May 24: Clarifies the optional nature of Navigate on Autopilot's automatic lane-changing.