Merging and Tesla Autopilot – What You Can and Can’t Do (Yet)

Merging and Tesla Autopilot

One aspect of driving that has long frustrated drivers the most is merging. With the Tesla Autopilot, this is a part of driving that is gradually easier and safer. There are many aspects of Autopilot that are quite appealing to drivers, but it is essential to know what you can and can’t do when it comes to merging.

Tesla Autopilot makes it possible for your car to merge into traffic automatically when you have the right features enabled. The driver must always be in control of the car and be ready to make corrections as needed. Current regulations only allow Autopilot to act as an assistant.

It is important to know how to make effective use of the Tesla Autopilot, especially when it comes to merging. When properly used, drivers will be able to enter and exit highway traffic with much more precision than they ever dreamed possible. Continue reading to learn more about the merging capabilities of Autopilot. 

Autopilot and Merging

While the notion of just being able to input a destination and then sitting back while a car takes you there is not very far off, we are not there yet. One of the reasons why is merging. While Autopilot is able to get your vehicle on and off highway exit ramps successfully, for example, it is not permitted to do so without your guidance. 

Autopilot is a revolutionary invention from Tesla that has changed the way millions around the world approach driving. The way that merging is handled is a perfect example of this. It is now possible to have the car determine when it is safe to move by speeding up and slowing down in accordance with prevailing traffic patterns. 

How is Automatic Merging Made Possible?

You might be wondering how it is possible for a car to even merge without your input. It is possible because of the Autopilot system that has been available on all Tesla vehicles since 2016. When enabled on a car, there is a suite of driver assistance features that become available to today’s driver. 

We must be very clear that both the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving package available on the Tesla today still require driver involvement every step of the way. So, while you can ask the car to merge for you, it is still necessary for you to be involved in the car’s every movement as you do so. In essence, Autopilot becomes like an assistant that is there to guide and help you. 

Autopilot allows for merging because of its ability to sense traffic around and engage in the following actions on behalf of the driver:

  • Autopilot will gently steer you to where it is safest for your vehicle to go. 
  • Autopilot will apply the brakes when it senses you are too close to another vehicle or object. 
  • Autopilot will accelerate on your behalf when it senses that it is safe to do so and is necessary given the route you have asked the car to take. 

These three features of the Autopilot support merging. And all three must be used simultaneously to effectively move a car into traffic that is often already moving at full speed. The system considers many things all at once and makes instant adjustments, which is usually something that human drivers struggle with.

What Does Autopilot Do for You?

Since you are not able to allow Autopilot to drive for you, you might be wondering how the merging feature even works. It works because humans have a difficult time identifying certain traffic patterns on the road. Autopilot can do that and then instantly send the information to the driver. 

Autopilot also makes minor corrections when merging that can make the difference between hitting another vehicle and avoiding it entirely. So while it may not be able to fully merge on your behalf, it can do everything in its power to make sure that you execute the maneuver flawlessly.

5 Autopilot Features That Allow for Merging

While many components go into the functioning of Autopilot, there are several that combine to allow it to merge your car into traffic successfully. These are:

  1. Traffic-Aware Cruise Control
  2. Autosteer
  3. Navigating with Autopilot
  4. Change Lanes Automatically
  5. Stop and Go in Traffic

Again, you will need to be a subscriber to the Tesla Autopilot system before you can use these four features. When you enable Autopilot, you will confirm which features you like to make use on any given journey.

Using Navigation with Autopilot

This is the one feature that makes merging a reality. Designed to be used mostly for highway driving, it allows drivers to input their destination and then allow Autopilot to determine the best route. In so doing, it will also determine when to enter and exit highways, change lanes, and more.

All of this is designed to get the vehicle and its passengers safely to the next destination. When you are in the far left lane, for example, this feature will know when you need to start merging with traffic to get in the proper position to make your next exit. 

Navigation with Autopilot is also able to help you get on the right interchange on the highway. This often requires a complex set of mergers. The system will notify you when you need to move lanes, and it will help you merge from one freeway to the next as you go through interchanges. This takes a great deal of the pressure off drivers, mainly when there is a lot of traffic.

Using Change Lanes Automatically

Changing lanes can be one more of the most stressful parts of driving for many people, particularly when the traffic is heavy. Add to that the fact that there are often blind spots to take into account, and it is often difficult to know exactly when it is safe to change lanes. 

Changing lanes often involves merging, especially if there is an intersection involved. Autopilot is able to sense vehicles all around, in front of, and behind a vehicle. This allows it to know precisely when it is safe to merge or change lanes and what speed is necessary to keep up with the flow of traffic. 

This all happens because of the system of cameras and sensors that are installed on Tesla vehicles. They tell Autopilot when it is safe to merge. 

At the same time, the vehicle can speed up or slow down depending on what the traffic around the vehicle is doing. In addition, Autopilot will automatically turn on the indicator light to alert traffic about an upcoming lane change or merge. 

Using Autosteer

To successfully steer requires precision steering. The two go hand in hand. Going from an on-ramp into traffic should be done one lane at a time. This is why the Autopilot will help the driver stay in his or her lane until it is time to move. It does this via a gentle nudge that keeps the vehicle properly centered in the lane. 

It is important to keep in mind that many lanes do not follow a straight line. This is why an inattentive driver can inadvertently drift into the opposite lane and potentially cause an accident. When Autopilot is engaged, it will continually monitor the vehicle’s location to ensure it is in the right lane until it is safe to merge or change lanes. 

Using the Traffic-Aware Cruise Control Feature

Many highways have multiple lanes. When cruise control is set, this does not always mean that you will stay in the same lane the entire time. Autopilot might sense a problem up ahead or slow-moving traffic in one lane, while other lanes are smooth sailing. 

When that happens, it will get the car in a position to either change lanes or merge into an intersection while maintaining the pre-set speed you have entered for cruise control. The name of this feature says it all. It is designed to constantly monitor traffic and keep the car safely moving towards its ultimate destination. 

How the Stop and Go in Traffic Feature Works

Merging safely also requires a constant awareness of traffic lights and stop signs. Many on-ramps and exits will require drivers to stop and go for a bit before they can safely exit. Autopilot is now able to monitor for stop signs and traffic lights and help ensure that the car stops when it becomes necessary to make this safer. 

Stop and Go in traffic is in beta at the moment. It is designed to slow down when it is approaching a stop sign or signal. This will help drivers successfully navigate merges in heavily trafficked intersections. What you cannot do, however, is rely on the system to brake and accelerate on your behalf for the entire journey. You must still remain in control of the car. 

Quick Data Processing Makes Merging Possible

When using Autopilot to merge into traffic, the system must be able to analyze mountains of data coming at it from all directions. A mistake cannot be made. The hardware built into Autopilot is what makes this all possible. 

The system is able to analyze mountains of data coming in from the sensors and camera. It does this at a rate that is more than 40 times any other similar type of driver assistance feature previously developed in the marketplace. This demonstrates how good the technology is, but certain limitations have to be taken into account. 

Merging cannot currently occur only with a computer system. Autopilot requires a driver to be involved as well. In essence, humans and technology work hand in hand to make driving a safer experience for everyone involved. The fact that Autopilot can analyze and process data so quickly is no substitute for the instinctual behavior that humans can bring to the driving experience. 

In essence, Autopilot has been designed to continually analyze data and use that information to help drivers do their job better. It can spot potential hazards and avoid accidents when merging. The system can also judge at what point and what speed such a merge needs to take place. However, humans also have a great deal to add to the process. 

Cameras and More Make it All Possible

In order for Autopilot to successfully merge your Tesla, it needs to be able to see at all angles. This is what the electric car maker has spent so much time and money perfecting over the past few years. It has resulted in an impressive array of cameras and sensors, each one in conjunction with the others to create a seamless driving experience. 

Side Cameras That Are Rearward Looking 

No matter which way you are merging, you will need to simultaneously look to your side and to your rear. Human eyes cannot capture everything that they need to all at once to maximize safety, but these side cameras can look to the side and the rear at a distance of up to 100 meters. 

A Camera with a Wide Forward Lens

Drivers often are looking to the rear when merging, failing to catch cars and other objects that might be slowing down when merging. The Tesla Autopilot system is able to provide this additional coverage. It will capture a wide angle in the front of the car to a distance of 60 meters.

A Camera That Looks Forward

Even though you are merging, having a camera that looks straight ahead is always beneficial. Combined with the navigation feature on Autopilot, this will help you stay at the proper speed given the traffic that is in front of you. The forward looking camera can capture images up to 150 meters away. 

A Camera with a Narrow Forward Lens

As if the forward-looking camera were not enough, this one provides a narrow focus lens that allows Autopilot to sense if there is anything in the way while merging. It will continually look up to 250 meters in the front of the vehicle, with a narrow focus that allows drivers to focus on the bigger picture. 

A Camera That Sees in the Rear

Autopilot is also able to see 50 meters to the rear. This can prove invaluable at alerting drivers to possible obstructions that are in their blind spot. Since many accidents happen while merging, this is an undeniably helpful safety feature that drivers have begun to rely upon. 

Side Cameras That Look Forward

As if the other cameras were not enough, Tesla vehicles also have forward looking side cameras that Autopilot can rely upon when merging or changing lanes. These will spot potential problems up to 80 meters away, giving the system and the driver ample time to react accordingly. 

Ultrasonic Sensors

If you are wondering if Autopilot can identify potential obstructions in the immediate vicinity of the car, this is your answer. There are now a set of ultrasonic sensors built into the car that can sense items all around the car that are up to eight meters away. This will create an audible signal that the driver can use to make instantaneous decisions when necessary.

Comprehensive Radar System

In addition to the sensors that are placed all over the car, Autopilot now has a radar system that provides even more coverage while merging or changing lanes. The beams go out 160 meters away, making it possible to see quite a bit. This works in conjunction with the other features of Autopilot to create a safer driving experience. 

What Can’t Autopilot Do?

With all of these cameras, radars, and sensors, you are probably wondering what the Autopilot can’t do when it comes to merging. The system is not able to instantly anticipate everything that happens on the road. There are unknown variables that can happen when attempting a merge that makes it necessary for the driver to stay involved in the process. 

Drivers will need to be alert during every merge. Any of the following can happen that require the type of instinctive reaction that humans can perform when Autopilot might not be able to. 

  • Animals can dart in the road without notice.
  • Obstructions such as potholes may be in the lane you are about to merge into.
  • Improper lane changes by other vehicles can create the potential for an accident.

These are just a few of the many reasons why Autopilot has some limitations in its ability to merge. However, the system is designed to complement drivers and safely navigate even the most complex lane changes. When this is taken into account, one can safely say that there is a lot that Autopilot brings to the table. 


Driving has just become a whole lot easier with the ability of Autopilot to help merge cars into traffic. Currently available on Tesla vehicles, this enables drivers to have a more complete view of what is happening all around them as they begin to merge or change lanes in heavy traffic. This is a positive safety development all around, even with the limitations currently in place. 

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The articles here on are created by Greg, a Tesla vehicle and Tesla solar expert with nearly half a decade of hands-on experience. The information on this site is fact-checked and tested in-person to ensure the best possible level of accuracy.

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