Crossing White Trucks and Tesla Autopilot

Tesla's autonomous driving mode still can't see white trucks crossing in front of it. This morning, on my way to work, I was following two cars along a road, with AutoPilot enabled, when a white semi-trailer truck pulled into the road from the side. It took me a second to realize that AutoPilot was not going to slow down, let alone actively break or alert to the sudden intrusion; during the subsequent slamming of the breaks I could not help but think of the first fatal Tesla crash, where a Model S drove straight into the side of a white semi-truck in Florida.

Truck entering road

The truck first becomes visible, pulling into the road.

Truck crossing

The truck is still completely invisible to AutoPilot

Truck passed

At no point did the emergency breaking or collision detection kick-in or alert.

System performance data also revealed that the driver was operating the car using the advanced driver assistance features Traffic-Aware Cruise Control and Autosteer lane keeping assistance. The car was also equipped with automatic emergency braking that is designed to automatically apply the brakes to reduce the severity of or assist in avoiding frontal collisions.

In that 2016 crash, the white truck against a brightly lit sky was one element which received some attention; this morning the sky was a standard New England Autumn gray, against which the truck should have been fairly obvious1. Not only that, but there were dark trees lining the road. It seems, like parked trucks, white trucks entering from the side of the road continue to be invisible to Tesla's autopilot three years following the first fatal crash. Unfortunately, this seems to have lead to yet another fatal crash in Florida earlier this year.

Tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that Tesla and other vehicles with semiautonomous driving technology had great difficulty sensing cross traffic.

“The systems don’t detect that type of object moving across their path with any reliability,” said Robert Molloy, director of the NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety.

Earlier this year, following a Freedom-of-Information request, poor math leading to the claimed safety improvement of AutoPilot came to light. One thing which is becoming increasingly clear to me as I continue to use AutoPilot, is that with enough mileage, you will get to experience all of the quirks that other drivers have reported eventually.

Washed-out truck

Can you see the truck? Fortunately AutoPilot does a better job when following the vehicle.


  1. The NTSB also ruled-out the white-on-bright sky theory, suggested by Tesla as the cause.