Opinion: We’re nowhere near ‘autopilot’ car utopia we’ve imagined — and regulators are finally noticing

The trouble with semiautonomous vehicles? You can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in beginning a broad investigation of systems used in thousands of Tesla’s electric cars, has finally woken up.

The imagined future of a driverless fleet rolling down U.S. streets looks a little like a utopia: reducing car ownership, alleviating traffic and making it much easier for the elderly and disabled to move around. Accidents and deaths will also decrease, because today the vast majority are caused by human error; machines, trained and tested, will make dramatically fewer mistakes. This future is one we should want. The problem is, we’re nowhere near there. Yet too many car owners act as though we are, and companies can encourage the illusion.