Tesla Autopilot accounts for 70% of driver assist crashes, says US traffic safety body

First of its kind report from NHTSA comes with caveats, though – the new tech also saves lives

First-of-its-kind research on advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) involved in accidents found that one company dominated with nearly 70 percent of reported incidents: Tesla.

The data was presented by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA), the conclusion of the first round of data it began gathering last year of vehicle crashes involving level 2 ADAS technology such as Tesla Autopilot. Of the 394 accidents analyzed, 270 involved Teslas with Autopilot engaged. 

"New vehicle technologies have the potential to help prevent crashes, reduce crash severity and save lives, and the Department is interested in fostering technologies that are proven to do so," said NHTSA administrator Dr Steven Cliff.

Level 2 ADAS is defined as providing speed and steering input, but requiring the driver to maintain attention. 

During a press event announcing the findings, Cliff also said that the data is light on context: "I would advise caution before attempting to draw conclusions based only on the data that we're releasing. In fact, the data alone may raise more questions than they answer," Cliff reportedly said at the event. 

More cars on the road

Tesla, for example, has far more vehicles on the road than other automakers who have similar level-2 ADAS technology. Still, based on data it had from automakers that isn't included in the NHTSA research, the AP said Tesla's crash rate per 1,000 vehicles was still substantially higher.

The NHTSA says the data it contains isn't normalized because companies required to log it are only reporting accidents, not the total number of vehicles produced or on the road, nor the mileage driven by each vehicle. In addition, the research said that some crashes can be reported multiple times due to submission requirements, and that data may be incomplete or unverified. 

Following Tesla for the most accidents was Honda, with 90, and Subaru, with 10. Other manufacturers said they had five (Ford) or fewer accidents. 

The NHTSA also released findings on fully automated driving systems (ADS), which covers ADAS levels three to five. One hundred and thirty accidents were reported, with Waymo, operator of a fleet of self driving taxis in California, reporting the most accidents with 62.

GM's Cruise, which is also licensed to operate driverless taxis in California, ranked third on the list with 23 self-driving accidents. 

Transdev Alternative Services, which supports Waymo's self-driving operations, was responsible for 34 accident reports and ranked second. It's unclear to what degree Transdev's close relationship with Waymo may have led to duplicate reports.

Tesla is already being investigated by the NHTSA because of Autopilot accidents. The investigation was recently upgraded to a formal analysis and is exploring whether Autopilot errors, or humans ignoring the road, were to blame for Tesla's poor crash record. That investigation could lead to a recall of 830,000 Autopilot-equipped Teslas. ®

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