Are self-driving cars the way of the future? As cool as the concept seems, it may not catch on as expected if the first iteration of the technology does not improve its safety record. Tesla is one of the vehicle manufacturers pioneering self-driving car technology. However, a fatality and multiple accidents that have occurred during Tesla’s Autopilot mode are leading people to ask whether the current technology is safe and far does it have to go before drivers can truly let go of the wheel?
On May 7, Joshua Brown was killed during an accident in his Tesla Model S in Florida. The vehicle was in partial self-driving Autopilot mode when it collided with a semi-truck on the highway. Tesla has stated that the Autopilot system did not differentiate between the white side of the truck’s trailer and the bright sky, which led the Model S to drive under the trailer. Brown is the first known fatality in a self-driving vehicle.
Tesla informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the crash on May 16. By June 30, the NHTSA announced to the public it would investigate Brown’s accident in the Model S. The administration has requested information from Tesla’s Director of Field Performance Engineering Matthew Schwall, particularly about the Forward Collision Warning and the Automatic Emergency Braking.
While Brown was the first known fatality related to the Autopilot feature, his was not the first accident. Two accidents involving Tesla Model X SUVs were in accidents this year, one in Pennsylvania and one in Montana. While Tesla stated that vehicle data shows both driver’s ignored warnings to take control of the car, one driver is claiming there are problems with the Autopilot.
The Autopilot feature works by using sensors that provide a 360-degree view around the car for up to 250 meters, according to the Tesla website. The vehicle gathers vision, sonar, and radar data and processes it faster than a human driver can. The Autopilot feature enables your vehicle to stay within its lane, match the speed of traffic, automatically change lanes when necessary, and self-park. However, Tesla states that this feature is still in the beta stages and that individuals should keep their hand on the wheel or be ready to take the wheel when signaled. The feature is not ready to completely drive the car without human discretion and input.
Elon Musk and Tesla strongly proclaim that the Autopilot feature makes driving safer. Musk even pointed out that Brown was the first fatality in 130 million miles of driving with the Autopilot activated. Compared to the overall U.S. rate of one fatality every 94 million miles, Tesla claims that the Autopilot is 38 percent safer than driving without this feature.
However, many people disagree with Musk’s sentiments and statistics. Many professionals have pointed out that comparing Tesla’s Autopilot fatality rate per mile to population-wide statistics that include bicycle, motorcycle and pedestrian deaths as well as commercial vehicles is seriously flawed. Green Car Reports stated it is like comparing apples to oranges. Also, with a sample size that includes one fatality, there simply is not enough data to calculate an accurate fatality rate for the Autopilot feature. There probably will not be for years.
In order to look at the data through another perspective, Green Car Reports analyzed how the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety collects crash and fatality data. The IIHS rates cars in terms of driver (not passenger) deaths per million vehicle-years. A vehicle year is one vehicle on the road for one year. The average rate for the most recent study of the 2011 model year passenger cars and light trucks between 2009 and 2012 was 28 driver deaths per million vehicle-years. If a vehicle-year includes 12,000 miles, then the IIHS drive fatality rate is one driver fatality per 428 million miles driven.
The math is complicated, even for an experienced statistician. However, in comparing the IIHS driver fatality rate to the Tesla Autopilot fatality rate, Tesla is three times more dangerous than the average passenger vehicle.
Ultimately, Tesla and others can use various figures to argue over the safety rating. The main conclusion is that the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot feature and other self-driving cars is still uncertain. Whether or not these vehicles are safer than manually driven passenger vehicles is a question that will only be answered in time. For right now, Tesla drivers can use their Autopilot feature but do so cautiously and with their hands at the ready.
Whether you are in an accident with a self-driving vehicle or any regular car or truck, you need an experienced lawyer to help you recover. You may need help working with insurance or fighting for your recovery through a personal injury claim in court. At Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C., we understand how to fight for your compensation after a collision and will aggressively represent your interests in court and with insurers.
Call Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. today (312) 236-2900.