Tesla Autopilot and School Zones

The other day I had to run an errand early in the morning. I happened to follow the route I used to travel daily to take my kids to school. I had to pass the elementary school near my house and then the high school.

In neither of these cases was I using Autopilot. I find it to be a bit unnerving on busy country roads with no median. There’s a bias towards the middle of the road, and often I see drivers coming towards me staring at their phones, so I reserve Autopilot for those times when no one else is on the road. If I see a car, I disable it.

I was using cruise control, however, and as I approached the active school zones, I turned it off. There weren’t any incidents, but the recognition of the road conditions by the Tesla OS (?) was disturbing to me.

For both of these schools, they are facing a busy road. The elementary school is on a 45mph road. In the morning and afternoon, as school opens and closes, there is an hour during each time period where a flashing yellow light highlights a 20mph speed limit sign.

Some people don’t see this, which is scary. There is a fence to keep kids back, this is still a little scary for me, even though my kids are adults. However, most people slow down, and that often gets humans who notice the change in speed to slow down. Not to 20mph, but I think most get down to 30mph.

The Tesla usually notes speed limit signs. However, as I slowed into the zone and passed the 20mph sign, the Tesla still displayed 45mph on the console. The was repeated near the high school. That road is a 35mph zone, but has the flashing yellow above a 25mph sign.

In both cases, I would think this is an easy AI/ML thing to recognize.

What’s confusing to me is that the OS usually finds other signs. There is a construction area just West of my house, where the road detours slightly. There are orange signs propped up on the side of the road (along with cones) that note the speed limit goes from 40mph to 35mph to 25 mph. The Tesla recognizes and displays all these changes.

When it sees a 40mph sign after emerging Southbound, it displays 40mph. Northbound, there is no speed limit sign after leaving the construction area. The Tesla continues to display 25mph for the next mile or two, while most humans realize the 25mpg no long applies. At least, I doubt a police officer would stop anyone for doing 40mph, though technically the limit is likely still 25mph without a sign.

I’ve seen a few posts that Teslas don’t quite get school zones for some reason. This isnt’ an area where Autopilot should be used, IMHO, though I suspect there are people using the Full Self Driving near schools.

I have often used cruise control in these zones, set to 20mph or 25mph, since the two near my house are rather long, but I haven’t trusted Tesla to enable it in this case. In other cars, I slow to 20 and then press a button, which keeps the car moving slow.

I don’t know how other car companies might approach this, but I do think that school zones are one of those difficult cases that appear easy to recognize as humans, but might not be as easy for computers. This certainly is one of those situations that might prevent Level 5 driving from being accepted by many.

I love the car, but I continue to respect that using some of the driver assist features means these are assisting you, not driving for you.

There’s a video of this post as well.

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