Tesla’s Model S comes loaded with the latest 7.0 software, and it has the ability to change lanes as part of its autopilot features, which includes Auto Lane Change, Auto Park, and Autosteer among other fascinating features.
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But the problem is: are Australian roads ready for this car, and does the current legislation cover the use of this car on the roads? Most especially when it comes to using hands-free with the ability of the vehicle to change lanes?
But Tesla plays safe by saying that "The Autopilot technology passes all regulations with the outline to all customers that hands are to remain on the steering wheel at all times," according to a spokesperson.
"I think it's perfectly legal, because the responsibility still lies with the driver," said Vinayak Dixit, deputy director of the Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation at the University of New South Wales. "From the legal perspective, it's fully compliant. The legal system allows for this current level of automation."
The Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) – a transport advisory group, through its national technical leader, Charles Karl, revealed that vehicles with two level automation system or partial automation are perfectly legal in Australia. The ARRB complies with the SAE International system classification for five automation levels.
"The best way to describe level two is your hands need to be on the wheel, but the car can still [perform some partial automated functions]," Karl said. "In level three, you can read or watch a video. In level four, you can sleep ... level five is perhaps where there is no steering wheel at all."
Meanwhile, the Transport for NSW, a body that regulates New South Wales roads, disclosed that it is required to fully investigate driverless cars before they are certified for use on public roads. A spokesman said as long as a driver puts the automated system of a car in a semi-automated mode before operating it, it is classified that the driver is in control and the car can be used without any problems on major roads.
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While many people consider the Tesla Model S as fully hands-free, CEO Elon Musk said during the launch that drivers must still keep their hands on the wheel to have control, at least for now, since many new features are still in beta.