Tesla has been making headlines and exciting consumers with every new feature they add to their Autopilot system. Tesla is on the cusp of automated driving technology, and that has left many Tesla drivers wondering why the autopilot’s braking continues to be unsatisfactory for many consumers.
There are two issues that appear with Tesla autopilot braking: braking late or braking for no reason. The second issue is far more prevalent and has even received the moniker of phantom braking. While drivers can work to better understand why these braking issues occur, they are a result of Autopilot’s software and capabilities.
In this article, we will explore both why Autopilot may not be braking as quickly as you would like and why the menace of phantom braking continues to plague Tesla owners. Whether you are an annoyed Tesla owner or a cautious potential buyer, keep reading to get the full scoop on Tesla Autopilot braking issues.
Tesla Autopilot Braking Issues
What exactly do we mean by Tesla autopilot braking issues? If you are aware of current news you know that Tesla recently recalled many Model 3 and Model Y vehicles because of brake problems. Is this the Tesla autopilot braking issue we are referring to?
Actually no. Tesla’s recent recall is due to problems with the brake caliper in these vehicles. The brake caliper is part of the physical mechanics that allow your car to brake. The braking in Tesla’s with defective brake calipers was problematic whether the driver or autopilot was braking the car.
What this article will explore is issues with how Tesla Autopilot controls the brakes. The problems arise from when the software chooses to engage the brakes rather than from any physical default in the brakes themselves.
If your Tesla is having braking issues in general, whether the autopilot is engaged or not, that is an indication that something is wrong with the machinery and not the Autopilot. You have Tesla brake issues not Tesla Autopilot braking issues.
Now that we know exactly what we are talking about let’s look at the two ways Autopilot can mess up braking.
Braking Too Late
Before we get into the phenomenon of phantom braking, we first want to explore an issue that is less prevalent with Tesla Autopilot but which nevertheless can bother some Tesla owners. Some drivers have complained that Tesla Autopilot does not brake soon enough.
Does this mean that Tesla Autopilot is failing to engage the brakes and causing collisions? Thankfully, no. Autopilot braking too late does not mean that Autopilot is failing to stop in time. What it means is that Autopilot is taking less time to stop than the driver would prefer. The brakes engage late causing a much more abrupt stop.
What Happens When Autopilot Brakes Too Late?
Many drivers may not first identify what exactly is occurring. What they feel is that the Tesla is braking hard, which can scare passengers, the driver, and most problematically the cars behind the Tesla. We all know from experience on the road that sudden stops can cause collisions, and they also are not great for your tires or brakes. So what is happening?
Let’s say a Tesla on Autopilot is approaching stopped traffic. While the driver might have started to slow at 200 meters away and taken 6 seconds to gradually come to a full stop, the Autopilot may not engage the brakes until 100 meters away and take 3 seconds to stop. The result is a far faster decrease in speed, a more sudden stop, and an overall jerkier feel.
Why Does Autopilot Brake Too Late?
Now that we understand what is happening, the next question is why. If drivers have complained that Autopilot does not brake soon enough why can’t you just alter the braking distance?
First of all, to be clear, you can change the braking distance for your Tesla on Autopilot. You can alter the following distance which will cause your Tesla to brake sooner or later to maintain this distance. However, there can be issues with a Tesla failing to engage the brake soon enough despite this. This is what we are looking at.
It is important to remember that a Tesla on Autopilot does not see the same way a human driver does. It relies on sensors. Your Tesla brakes late because it “sees” the obstacle later than its human driver, and there are two main reasons for this: range and obstacles.
The Tesla Autopilot uses a combination of 12 ultrasonic sensors and eight cameras to observe its surroundings and respond accordingly. For braking, what we care about is how far the Tesla can “see” in front.
A Tesla’s sensors give it a front range of up to 250 meters. This means that anything beyond 250 meters the Tesla is essentially blind to. Your Tesla will not engage its brakes for something over 250 meters away because it does not yet know that thing is there.
Of course, 250 meters is plenty of stopping distance, but if your Tesla happens to be going at high speeds on a highway, it may feel abrupt. Let’s break this down further.
|Miles Per Hour||Meters Per Second||How Far the Tesla Can “See”|
Again, it’s enough time to stop, but it may be less time than a human driver would give themselves at that speed. Also, remember that 250 meters is the max a Tesla can see so all of these numbers are likely lower in real situations.
The other reason a Tesla may fail to “see” something and engage the brakes sooner is because of obstacles. A Tesla has 250 meters of vision straight ahead of itself. On a curvy road, this range drops because the road may not extend 250 feet straight ahead of the Tesla.
As we move away from what is straight ahead of the Tesla to how the Tesla views things to the side the range drops from 250 meters to 150 meters to 80 meters and finally 60 meters. This means that a Tesla on a curvy road will likely not “see” an obstacle until much later than it would on a straight road.
Of course, on an incredibly curvy road, a vehicle should not be traveling at high speeds and thus the Tesla should still have plenty of stopping time even if it engages the brakes much later than it would on a straight road. But again, a Tesla often becomes aware later than a human driver and thus engages its brakes later. This makes some drivers highly uncomfortable.
Is Autopilot Braking Late a Problem?
As we have pointed out, the main issue here is that Tesla Autopilot is acting differently than a human driver. In certain situations such as at high speeds and on curvy roads, the Tesla Autopilot may engage the brakes later than a human, but it still has enough time to stop. If it can still prevent collisions is this a brake issue?
Unfortunately, it can still be dangerous. Other cars around the Tesla are controlled by human drivers, who may not be able to respond quickly enough. A Tesla is operating as a machine would while doing an activity normally controlled by human guidance. There is a potential for conflict there as the machine responds in ways other drivers may not anticipate.
Takeaway: Is My Tesla Autopilot Braking Too Late?
The fact is that this is not an issue every Tesla driver complains about. A lot of how you feel about Tesla Autopilot’s braking practices has to do with your own driving practices and what types of roads you use the Autopilot on.
If you feel that your Tesla is braking too late on Autopilot then you may want to consider how fast the car is going and what type of road you are driving on. At what point is your Tesla seeing an obstacle compared to when you see it? If you don’t like the answer you may need to take over driving at those points.
Now let’s move to the issue that is all over the Tesla forums and annoying Tesla drivers all over the world: phantom braking.
Phantom braking is when a Tesla on Autopilot engages the brakes even though there is nothing on the road ahead. This is an occurrence that has been a standard glitch on Tesla Autopilot for some time now, but other electric vehicles and automated driving systems seem to be free of it. Is this just the price to pay for owning a Tesla?
What Happens When Tesla Autopilot Phantom Brakes?
Phantom braking does not mean that the Tesla suddenly slams on the brakes with nothing in the road before it. Phantom braking instead refers to when a Tesla on Autopilot inexplicitly engages the brakes and reduces its speed with no obstacle to account for such behavior.
While the Tesla may not be coming to a complete halt in the middle of the road, drivers have still complained about the jarring and potential danger of these sudden braking sessions. It is unexpected enough to give passengers in the Tesla a jolt, and to someone following a Tesla, phantom braking can look like brake checking.
When Does a Tesla Phantom Brake?
Teslas only phantom brake when Autopilot is engaged, but when exactly is that? Autopilot is not a single feature but several different automated driving features such as autosteer, adaptive cruise control, auto lane change, and many more as Tesla has continued to add new features.
Phantom braking seems to only occur when both adaptive cruise control and autosteer are engaged. Adaptive cruise control is what allows the car to accelerate and brake on its own in response to traffic while autosteer keeps your car in its lane and following the movement of the road.
Your Tesla will not phantom brake while you are driving down the road in manual control. Phantom braking only occurs when Autopilot is engaged which means that the reason behind this annoying brake glitch lies somewhere in the Autopilot software.
Why Does a Tesla Phantom Brake?
Unfortunately, most of the concrete information we have about brake checking comes from Tesla forums and other community sites where frustrated Tesla owners seek to find a reason for their car’s annoying behavior. If Tesla knows why or has conducted studies on the phantom braking problem, they are not common knowledge.
The consensus is that phantom braking tends to occur more often in certain situations. People have noted that their Teslas phantom brake when:
- They are going under a bridge or overpass
- They are going through a tunnel
- A semi-truck is approaching in oncoming traffic
- The sun is particularly bright
- They are on a two-lane road
This does not mean that Teslas always phantom brake in these locations, but that these are the situations that consumers have noted in which their Tesla is more likely to phantom brake. With this in mind, there are two speculations as to what causes a Tesla to phantom brake.
One common thread running through all of these various incidents seems to be shadows. A passing semi-truck casts a large shadow. Tunnels and bridges cause shadows, and you are much more likely to encounter shadows created by oncoming vehicles on two-lane roads.
The idea here is then that the Tesla’s cameras register the shadow as an obstacle and that causes the brakes to become activated.
This seems to make good sense, but there is one flaw. As we already said, when a Tesla phantom brakes it does not come to a complete stop. It simply slows significantly. If a Tesla was mistaking shadows for a physical object in the roadway, why does it not stop completely?
It could be that Tesla does not think the shadow is a full obstacle and only slows out of some sort of cautionary programming. Still, it seems like shadows may not be the only answer for phantom braking.
Confused Speed Limits
Other Tesla drivers have found another potential source of phantom braking: speed limits. For both legal and safety reasons, when your Tesla is on Autopilot it follows the speed limits. So what would happen if your Tesla suddenly thought the speed limit had changed?
Obviously, it would slow down. Many people have noted that phantom braking incidents occur while going under a bridge or through a tunnel. While it could be because of shadows, it may also be that the Tesla for a moment becomes confused by the overlap of two roads. It thinks you are on the other road and brakes suddenly to try and accommodate the new speed limit.
Of course, like the shadow theory, this simply does not explain everything. Phantom braking has also been known to occur on two-lane roads where there were no other roads nearby with different speed limits.
Shadows and confused speed limits do seem to offer some explanation for why phantom braking occurs, but they do not fully or completely explain the phenomenon. There is a more general explanation that looks at why phantom braking occurs in general rather than why it occurs in specific locations.
Tesla Autopilot has been under fire by many for its potential dangers especially due to some fatal car crashes that have occurred while Autopilot is engaged. To beef up their system’s safety Tesla may have made the braking system too sensitive, which has resulted in the existence of phantom braking.
This attempt to make sure Autopilot has a better reputation may go beyond making the braking system more sensitive. Phantom braking often occurs when incoming traffic is approaching a Tesla on a two-lane road, and this phantom braking has the Tesla slowing but not stopping.
It could be that the Tesla recognizes oncoming traffic and slows some so that in the event of a collision there will be less kinetic energy and hopefully less damage and less severe injuries. Shadows may then cause a similar reaction.
Unfortunately, if phantom braking is due to increased safety protocols on Tesla’s part it has effectively backfired since the sudden stops are only creating potential hazards. It seems unlikely that phantom braking could be completely purposeful though as the number of complaints about it would surely prompt Tesla to fix it.
In the End, It Is Still Unclear
There are competing explanations, all with some merit and some problems, to understand why phantom braking happens. At the end of the day, the exact answer is just unclear. The Autopilot program has a fault somewhere that causes this constant glitch, but the fact that Tesla still has not fixed it shows more than anything how difficult it is to truly pinpoint.
How Much of a Problem Is Phantom Braking?
It is a glitch that occurs to Tesla owners of every model and all over the world, and which has persisted despite numerous Tesla updates.
Some Tesla owners view phantom braking as a mild and infrequent annoyance, while for others it occurs often enough and scares them enough that they have opted not to use Autopilot. There is little doubt that Tesla needs to fix the issue, but in the meantime what can drivers do about these Autopilot problems?
How To Deal with Tesla Autopilot Braking Issues
The problem with braking issues that occur under Tesla Autopilot is that the issue lies in the car’s software rather than mechanics. It is one thing to replace faulty brake pads but quite another to fix faulty AI that is driving your car. You can’t simply take it to a mechanic.
The solution then for drivers facing Tesla Autopilot brake issues is often learning how to manage these issues.
How To Manage Autopilot Braking Too Late
Dealing with the problem of Autopilot braking too late is a lot more manageable than phantom braking. The problem is not necessarily faulty software but simply the difference in how Autopilot functions versus how a human driver would act.
The first step is to see if you can fix the problem by altering your Autopilot’s following distance. If you increase this, you may be able to find a setting that has your Autopilot braking in a way that makes you more comfortable.
If the problem persists no matter how you change the settings, you need to begin looking at when and where the problem occurs. Is it on a high-speed highway or a rural two-lane road? It could be that your Tesla is just not up to driving itself safely on some roads.
Despite the name, Autopilot is far from being a fully self-driving system. Some driving situations are better left in human hands, and if your Autopilot is consistently not responding fast enough with the brakes in certain areas, then your Tesla may need the human touch. Autopilot is improving, but it does not replace a human driver.
How To Manage Phantom Braking
This can be trickier because phantom braking is undoubtedly a result of a fault or imperfection in the Autopilot system and software. You can’t alter the autopilot code, so how do you stop it from phantom braking?
The answer is that you can’t. You cannot make your Tesla stop phantom braking. Some Tesla owners do report that the more you drive a Tesla on Autopilot after an update the less often phantom braking occurs, so letting the software work itself out may help reduce the problem.
If phantom braking does occur while you are driving, you can stop the braking by tapping on the accelerator to regain control of the car and counteract the braking.
While phantom braking tends to catch drivers unawares, you may also be able to anticipate it. Some drivers notice that phantom braking occurs repeatedly at the same spot on a daily commute or another road they regularly drive. If you know that a certain part of a road always causes your Tesla to phantom brake, you may want to turn off Autopilot when passing this area.
Reboot Your Tesla
While the problem of phantom braking needs to be fixed on a much deeper level, if your autopilot braking is acting just a bit glitchy then you may be able to fix the issue by rebooting your Tesla.
The basic reboot procedure can be done with the following steps:
- Find the top two buttons above the scroll wheels. They should be on either side of the steering wheel.
- Hold these buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds.
If this does not work you can try a more extensive reset. To perform this you will need to:
- Put your foot on the brake and hold down.
- Hold both scroll buttons on the steering wheel for 10 seconds.
- Keep your foot on the brake the whole time while the system reboots and starts again.
- You can either stop here for a basic reboot or continue to the next steps for a full restart.
- Release the brake pedal.
- Select “Power Off” from the service menu.
- Allow the car time to fully shut down. If you are in a quiet place you should wait until you hear nothing. If background noise makes this difficult, wait for a minimum of 5 minutes.
- Push the brake pedal to start the car again.
Sometimes rebooting and resetting can help if your Tesla Autopilot braking seems to have gone temporarily haywire. Remember to park your Tesla in a safe space before performing any reboot.
What Does This Mean For Tesla Autopilot?
You may be surprised to learn of the recurring issue of phantom braking and even of the complaints about late braking with Tesla’s Autopilot. Tesla has the newest automated driving features such as smart summons (your car can come find you in a parking lot) and the ability to recognize stop signs and traffic lights. How can the braking still be a problem?
Tesla has been pushing itself towards the goal of fully self-driving cars and with each new feature, they seem ever closer. The continuing presence of phantom braking and other complaints about the Autopilot braking shows that Tesla may be getting ahead of itself.
Self-driving cars are not as close to reality as some enthusiasts claim because of issues like Autopilot braking. All of the new features Tesla adds will mean little if Tesla cannot get the basics right.
The fact that some are opting not to use Autopilot as much to avoid phantom braking should drive this home. The amazing and eye-catching features of Autopilot mean little if basics like safe and reliable braking cannot be guaranteed.
Keeping Things In Perspective
Of course, bashing Tesla alone does not tell the whole story. Tesla Autopilot remains one of the best-automated driving systems on the market. Much of the vehemence with which people complain about the braking issues is due to the unrealistic faith people seem to have in the Autopilot system.
Autopilot is not capable of driving your car without a human pilot. It does not make your car self-driving. Some of the issues people have with Autopilot braking may simply be because they expect far too much from the system. This technology is not yet ready to take over for human drivers, and if you expect it to be you may become very frustrated with your Autopilot.
We are all hoping that Tesla will finally fix the problem of phantom braking. With the company continuing to constantly work on Autopilot and release updates it just may happen.
In the meantime, Tesla drivers need to remain aware of the limitations of Autopilot braking and not use the system in areas where these issues repeatedly occur.