Tesla Update Adds Automatic Braking for Controlled Intersections, Results Vary

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

While we’ve often criticized Tesla Motors’ “Full Self Driving” (FSD) suite for being a $7,000 promise that failed to deliver, the automaker is making moves that might someday force us to eat our words.

Tesla is now releasing a new software update that includes the ability to automatically recognize and slow down for stop signs and traffic lights. CEO Elon Musk mentioned the development in Wednesday’s earnings call, referencing the system as “Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control” that builds on display options added months prior.

“Regarding Autopilot, we released a new software update for traffic lights and stop signs to early access users in March and to all U.S. customers with full self-driving package just last week. Our cars will now automatically stop at each stop sign or traffic light until the driver gets a confirmation to proceed,” Musk said. “I should say that the car is actually capable of much more than this, but we are only exposing functionality that we feel quite good about and where we feel it’s probably a safety improvement.”

While he did not expand on those other features, they’re likely related to the often criticized but highly ambitious FSD suite. However, the updates discussed are still being refined. Now that manufacturers can issue over-the-air updates to connected vehicles, they can make changes on the fly — adding or pulling features without the driver’s knowledge. While this opens up new doors for auto brands, we’ve seen Tesla make moves that leave us questioning whether or not cars are evolving in a manner that truly benefits consumers. The company has been caught removing content from vehicles on the secondhand market; for years, it’s been barked at for beta testing new features on existing customers.

It sounds like Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control also falls into the latter camp. However, it’s allowing the manufacturer to keep its promises, so you can’t knock it entirely. Adding content to a vehicle years after it was purchased is still kind of magical… at least conceptually.

As things stand, software update 2020.12.6 sees the car warn you of an impending intersection before it attempts to stop for it. This can be overridden by slapping the gear selector downward or blipping the throttle. Having no model with which to test this at present, we were forced to wait for feedback from Tesla owners living with the new system. Thus far, reactions are mixed.

While Traffic Light and Stop Sign Control (which has to be enabled for your driving profile) seems adept at identifying where intersections are located, it apparently will try and slow itself even when you’re facing a green light. It seems to have issues when crossing divided highways or railroads, as well — occasionally ignoring the first intersection you encounter if the second is near enough. Sensors will also occasionally pick up false readings for parallel crossroads where lights are angled partially in your direction, causing a surprise stop.

This makes the system seem like a handful, especially since it requires you take additional action not to stop at every intersection. On busy-enough roads, this would require a driver to constantly work against the system while attempting to drive normally. It could prove handy on long boulevards, though this author doubts he’d ever use it for any reason beyond briefly satisfying his own curiosity.

[Image: Tesla]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Join the conversation
3 of 16 comments
  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on May 01, 2020

    "the car is actually capable of much more than this" Pretty sure that Ford has had a vastly more capable system ready to go for the F-series for several (more like 12) years now. Just waiting to flick the switch.

    • Speedlaw Speedlaw on May 04, 2020

      I'm sure Ford, GM, Toyota, Ze Chermans, etc have working systems. They just know not to release them, because when someone gets in the car, drunk, in a blizzard, and hits "go home" and the car kills them and some innocent party, THEY will get the massive lawsuits. Also, the majors know that the worst case scenario will occur, probably every day. Tesla is taking a huge risk here. I wonder how many FSD lawsuits are out there ?

  • Sirwired Sirwired on May 01, 2020

    Huh; I thought His Muskiness promised us that his customers would be renting out their rides as JohhnyCabs by the end of the year! Somehow I don't see a feature that kinda-sorta knows to come to a stop at stop-signs and red lights (sometimes) *quite* gets us to that point.

  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.
  • El scotto I can get the speedometer from dad's 72 Ford truck back. I can't get dad back.
  • El scotto BAH! No dividers in the trunk for bags of onions or hooks for hanging sardines! Hard Pass.