Tesla Headlines NHTSA Report on Autonomous Crashes

Image Credit: Tesla

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Tesla may be the lead car in the great race to EV dominance, but here’s one contest it didn’t want to win.

On Wednesday, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report on crashes involving advanced driver-assist systems in the ten months between July 2021 and May 2022. Tesla, responsible for nearly 70% of almost 400 reported crashes, was far and away the biggest culprit. But don’t cancel your Cybertruck pre-order just yet — the auto-safety agency says to tap the brakes before drawing conclusions.

Self-Driver’s Ed

The first-of-its-kind survey sought to track crashes that happened when driver-assist and automated systems were in use (including lane-keep assistance and advanced cruise-control systems that regulate speeds based on maintaining follow-distance from a leading car), and comes amid lawmaker pressure to investigate and possibly regulate the new technologies proliferating across American roadways.

All data was company reported. Tesla, which has long claimed its Autopilot feature is safer than regular old human driving (a claim critics call dubious), is easily the group leader. Still, to the company’s credit, the numbers are obscured without critical context:

  • Teslas running on Autopilot were involved in 273 of the 392 crashes reviewed, but the sheer volume of drive-assisting cars the company has sold warps the data to its disadvantage. According to CNBC, one estimate counts roughly 830,000 Teslas equipped with driver assistance tech on American roads compared to just 34,000 from General Motors.
  • Honda came in second with 90 disclosed crashes; Subaru reported 10, Ford five, Toyota four, BMW three, and GM two. Hyundai, Lucic, Volkswagen, Porsche, and Aptiv reported one each. In total, the NHTSA found six crashes resulting in serious injury, and five that ended in fatalities — though did not disclose the vehicles involved.

False Advertising? Critics have long drubbed Tesla for deceptively naming its driver-assist systems in a way that may dangerously boost driver’s trust in them. While neither are fully autonomous, Tesla calls its baseline assist software “Autopilot,” and offers the more advanced “Full-Self Driving” for a $12,000 update. We wonder why customers are so confused.

Unsafe Conditions: Autonomous or not, American roads grew far more dangerous last year. According to NHTSA data reported in May, 42,915 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2021, a 10% increase from 2020, and the highest of any year since 2005. Better buckle-up.