Comedian and former talk show host Jay Leno is one of Hollywood’s biggest car buffs, and owns an absolutely legendary car collection. Since retiring from his late night gig, Leno has earned major street cred in the car world, having traveled across America to film his Emmy-winning series “Jay Leno’s Garage.” Now the proud owner of a Ludicrous Speed Tesla Model S, Leno told CNBC he is confident that automated driving is the future of private transport. The actor uses Tesla’s Autopilot feature regularly and is thrilled with the car’s speed and driving capabilities. But he points out that the Autopilot feature does not mean the car is fully automated. Even driving one of the smartest cars in existence, Leno keeps his eyes on the road- and recommends that we all do the same.
Using Autopilot, Teslas can now change lanes, go around bends, and adjust their driving speed independently to keep up with traffic or slow in response to cars around them. Since Autopilot’s introduction, amateur videos have been surfacing online demonstrating impressive feats like the Tesla’s ability to self-correct when a driver jerks the car into on-coming traffic. But as impressive as this is, it’s important to note that Autopilot must be engaged by the driver under particular conditions, and can’t function on its own at all times. Jay Leno points out that having such semi-automated features in cars doesn’t make them "driverless," and doesn't mean there shouldn’t be a person at the wheel, any more than an airplane flying on autopilot shouldn’t have a pilot.
During an interview with CNBC, Leno described Tesla’s Autopilot as a useful driver-assist and safety feature that should be added to all cars in one form or another. However, the comedian stopped short of calling Tesla’s current capabilities “driverless.” The actor likens the sensational new tech to anti-lock brakes and lane-departure warning lights: advancements that seemed like luxuries but became standard because they greatly increased road safety. The danger of using the term “driverless” to describe these cars is that drivers may be tempted to hand their cars over to the computer entirely and never look at the road again. But with the tech’s current capabilities and the reality that there are still traditional cars around being driven by actual humans, drivers of semi-automated cars do have a responsibility to watch the road.
It’s unclear how this attitude will change as semi-automated driving technologies evolve and become the norm. Carmakers other than Tesla have begun adding advanced driver-assist features to their cars, and as Leno predicted, these technologies are being adapted and adopted quickly across the board. It’s only a matter of time before the majority of cars have some form of automation, and U.S. state officials are trying to get ahead by starting to hash out just how these cars will be able to function on the road and what their legal limitations should be. So where does this leave today’s lucky Tesla owners? While they can proudly zoom ahead of the curve on our path to a driverless future, Leno cautions that they shouldn’t just turn on Autopilot and “jump in the back seat with a bottle of scotch.” This is probably good advice for people who could be driving newer models than Leno’s Tesla Model S P90D, which already has a top speed of 155 mph (250 km/h) and can go from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds flat.