Travels With Charley, Post Script

Hit ’em boys!
Well I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again
You get nothing for nothing: expect it when
You’re backseat driving, and your hands ain’t on the wheel…
–  Judas Priest – “Heading Out To The Highway”

Who is Charley? Rather what is Charley?  Charley would be my new traveling companion, a Tesla Model S 90D.  And why the name Charley one might ask?  As I was about to embark on a cross country trip, I was reminded of one of my favorite books by John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley.  Since the Tesla is a machine with some human-like qualities, it needed a name and Charley seemed to fit.

Charley, Elon Musk made it and I named her.

I was scheduled to fly back from Orange County, California to New York City on August 12, 2016.  But a few days prior to flying east, I decided that getting a new car, equipped with some of the most advanced automated driving features, and driving it back east would accelerate my understanding of the current level of driving automation and how well it functioned.  This would allow me to be one of the few attorneys to have a real grasp of the abilities and limitations of autonomous driving.

In order to make the most of what had long been on my bucket list – a cross country drive – I convinced my oldest son Drew, also a lawyer, to fly west to meet me and head out on the highway.  No prodding was necessary.  And so on August 12th, at around 5:00 PM, after picking up Charley at the Tesla showroom in Costa Mesa and without out any real planning at all, we pulled onto “The 15” and began a 2,801 mile journey back to the Big Apple.  Friday afternoon traffic be damned. We did not even make it out of California that night.

What I thought would be a three day journey, came in closer to five days.  Charley and I passed through the Lincoln Tunnel at 2:00PM on Tuesday, August 16th.  But Drew and I did get to spend the weekend together and see some of this country’s most beautiful places.  And a little political commentary here – this country is in a lot better shape than some politicians would lead us to believe.  Driving across its breadth and seeing what this country has become and will evolve into as technology advances, lends to a positive view.  But let me get back on course.

I can summarize the 12 state journey in an automated car with a few bullet points:

  • The Tesla, or for that matter, any other car in the marketplace, does not take you where you want to go.  In essence, an automated car does not follow a GPS driving plan.  But it will stay in its lane no matter how much that lane twists and turns and it will stop and go in a relatively safe manner.
  • While Charley can sense other vehicles in its traffic flow, Tesla’s Autopilot does require the driver to be completely engaged.  However, assuming you can relax enough to let this technology work, you can be a little more at ease while you drive.
  • When in Autopilot mode, the Model S will slow down from 80MPH to 15MPH when a reckless truck driver makes a sudden lane change in front of you on a steep uphill grade on a major highway as we found out in Utah!
  • Driving an automated car requires some of your old driving skills but handles some of the driving.  But automation requires a new kind of engagement and, at times, a new set of driving skills.  The lane changing dynamic is a perfect example of this.  If you put on your turning signal indicating a desire to change lanes, the car will check the desired lane and then launch.  You have to override the system to stop it.  In essence, once you click the turn signal up or down, get ready for the car to move right or left.  Oddly, it does not turn your turn signal off after execution.  This takes some getting used to.
  • Autopilot can, and will, unexpectedly cede control with what can be a very abrupt warning.
  • As everyone has heard, the United States is a big country, and in places like Kansas, the roadways are straight, boring and never ending.  Charley allowed us to take in more of the scenery and because it was in control, allowed both of us to relax a bit more while providing relief in the boring stretches.
  • The most useful aspect of the Tesla was in bumper to bumper traffic where it proceeds at a safe distance in relation to the car in front of you.  Rear end accidents will definitely be in decline.


The Tesla is not an autonomous car or what has popularly been referred to as “self driving.”   The Tesla Model S is a car with automated features and “automated” should not to be confused with “autonomous.”  No vehicle in the marketplace is truly autonomous – yet.  But for those who care about the evolution of the driving experience (auto repairers, lawmakers, insurers and lawyers), you should be aware that this technology is much more prevalent on our roadways than many realize.  You don’t have to get a new car and drive it cross country for the experience.  Visit a show room, go to a car show and get a chance to learn what’s going on.


In August 2016, Mike Nelson embarked on a cross-country road trip from Orange County, California to New York City in a Tesla 90D Model S.  The Model S is equipped with autopilot and electric all-wheel drive.  Mike shared his experiences on the road with autonomous technology with Up to Speed readers in a series of posts.

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