Book review: Robot, Take The Wheel

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TOO Supporting Member
Mar 4, 2019
Huntsville, AL
Tesla Owner
Model 3
Robot, Take The Wheel by Jason Torchinsky (Jalopnik reporter) is critical of Level 2, driver aids like but not limited to Tesla's Autopilot. Citing three fatal accidents, in theory Tesla's Autopilot can make driving safer but he sees a severe problem for 'those other drivers' who use it as if it were full autonomy. Sort of like someone with a 500 hp pony car driving on public streets like a drag or NASCAR track. But for three fatal accidents, he missed Tesla quarterly reports on accidents per million miles for Q2 2019, Autopilot had, 3.2, active safety features, 2.19, and none, 1.41.

Accidentally, Jason gives powerful description of why Level 2 driving is uncomfortable:

“... when you get behind the wheel and pedals of a powerful car; you feel powerful yourself , because all those 700 or so insane horsepowers are directly controlled by your own body; … many people who love to drive and drive aggressively are the most uncomfortable being driven fast and aggressively because they are no longer in control, and it feels wrong somehow.” (pp. 32.)

Far from being an aggressive driver, I've ridden with three aggressive drivers and it wasn't fun. One was a former Navy pilot who did 'formation driving', either maximum brake or maximum accelerator in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The second broke a 12 hour drive into two segments at plus 15 mph and a single meal and bathroom break. In contrast, I normally took 14 hours with three breaks. I married the third who delighted in talking her way out of speeding tickets and waking me up with high speed, tire and wind noise. Whether Level 2 Autopilot or another human, cognitive driving style determines the rider's comfort level.

Now Jason suggests autonomous systems could:

“... download the fastest lap ever recorded on that track, and “replay” that lap. … download entire, curated road trips. ...” (pp. 193-194)

In effect, full autonomy could be a hoot combined with playback. Unskilled drivers could experience the joy of riding 'second seat' around Laguna Seca Raceway.

Can I recommend this book? It has a nice history of cars and autonomous systems (pp. 1-92.) He correctly calls a car a prosthetic with an emotional appeal and writes with a dry wit. But reading a book is different than forum posting. Each book page is like a three paragraph forum post and there are 240 pages with no breaks or commentary but your own.

Still, I appreciate Jason because he was the only reporter at a Prius “press day” who had the good sense to run race car tuning software on his phone to get metrics Toyota was not sharing. Would that every reporter did that!

Bob Wilson

ps. I took the Tesla quarterly accident reports and generated this chart:

  • Initial Model 3 production shows a decrease in safety rate (accidents per million miles.)
  • Since Q4 2018, the rate has improved reflecting driver experience and software improvements.
  • Severe winter of Q1 2019 may have affected accident rate.
Last edited:
Sep 7, 2019
Tesla Owner
Model S
Three fatal accidents... Sounds like already too much. You better be careful if you take your hands off the wheel. At least, there has to be an option to brake manually or turn the wheel. I heard one driver put car into Auto, then didn't pay attention and looked somewhere else. That is when the car hit something. Pay attention when you put your life in the hands of a bot. Good luck.