How Quebec lags behind the new reality of self-driving cars

You can put a self-driving car from American automaker Tesla on your holiday wish list, but with no plans in Quebec to revise the Highway Safety Code to reflect that new reality, it may be some time before the electronics will be taking over your commute.

U.S. automaker taking orders for autonomous cars in time for Christmas, but no sign of regulatory green light

Gad Elmoznino lets his Model S Tesla do the driving, in autopilot mode. (CBC)

You can already order a self-driving car from American automaker Tesla, but it may be some time before you can sit back and let the electronics take over your commute on Quebec roads.

Tesla recently announced all of its cars will now be built for full self-driving autonomy, but it won't be activating the feature until state and provincial governments give it the regulatory green light.In Quebec, that's still a long way off.

A spokeswoman for Quebec's Transport Ministry, Nomba Danielle, says the government has to revise the province's Highway Safety Code to account for the reality of self-driving cars.

"Right now, they are not included," said Danielle. And although she says Transports Québec sees a need for the traffic laws to be updated, she confirms there is no legislation in the works.

'It's a reality – it's coming'

For Gad Elmoznino, the regulatory changes can't come soon enough.

"A lot of people feel that this is new and scary, but it's really something that's been thought of all along," Elmoznino said. "Self-driving … is going to be made possible by this hardware."

Tesla enthusiast Gad Elmoznino puts his Model S into autopilot as he is about to cross Montreal's Champlain Bridge. (CBC)

"It's a reality – it's coming."

Elmoznino has been driving Teslas since 2011, and he owns a Model S – not fully self-driving, but equipped with an autopilot feature.

The member of Club Tesla Quebec took CBC on a test drive over the Champlain Bridge, activating the car's semi-autonomous feature with the press of a button.

The system controls speed, steering and distance between other vehicles, with the help of a camera, a radar and sensors dotted around the car.

To change lanes, Elmoznino activated his turn signal, and the car effortlessly performed the manoeuvre.

"This is really an aid to driving," Elmoznino said. "It assists the driver to keep a lane, follow the lanes on the highway, stop and go traffic: makes the driving a little more relaxing and easy."

With autopilot mode activated, the Model S Tesla keeps an ideal braking distance between itself and the vehicle ahead. (CBC)

Safety 'twice as good as the average human'

The Tesla Model S has been involved in two high-profile crashes this year. The latest, in Florida last May, killed a driver after his car slammed into a tractor-trailer while in autopilot mode.

Drivers can still set a maximum speed while using the semi-autonomous feature, and U.S. federal safety regulators said that the car had been travelling about 14 km/h over the speed limit at the time of the accident.

The other fatality happened in China last January, but Tesla said it wasn't able to confirm if autopilot was engaged because of the level of damage that car sustained.

Since then, Tesla has introduced more advanced equipment for its new cars, which the automaker says will be able to drive completely autonomously, "with no action required by the person in the driver's seat" and at a safety level "at least twice as good as the average human driver."

It will do this using eight cameras, twelve ultrasonic sensors and a forward-facing radar.

Holiday delivery

Tesla's website says Quebec drivers can take delivery of these latest models as early as December.

However, it will likely be a long time after the holiday season before the car can fully handle your stop-and-go morning commute while you sit back, sip your coffee and enjoy the view.