20 Jan 2017 | 04.00 pm
Autopilot Tesla Less Likely To Crash
Probe says Tesla's self-drive system safer than humans
20 Jan 2017 | 04.00 pm
US safety investigators have concluded that Elon Musk’s Tesla electric car company was not to blame for an accident last May that killed the driver of a Model S who was using the car’s Autopilot system at the time.
Existing fears and misgivings about the safety aspects of self-driving cars were reinforced by the fatal accident, as even Tesla wondered at the time if the car’s radar, while in Autopilot mode, failed to distinguish a white 18-wheel truck-trailer rig crossing the highway against a bright sky. The Model S had slammed into an articulated truck, killing the car’s driver.
However, the findings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were generally favourable to Tesla’s testing procedures, attention to safety measures, and success at reducing the number of traffic incidents involving Tesla vehicles.
The NHSTA report said: “A safety-related defect trend has not been identified at this time and further examination of this issue does not appear to be warranted. Accordingly, this investigation is closed.”
The exhaustive, six-month probe yielded even more good news for Tesla and Musk. Rather than hurting the case for Autopilot, the data that the NHTSA accumulated from Tesla makes a pretty compelling argument in its favour, as the agency found both the Tesla Model S and Model X with Autopilot installed crashed about 40% less often than their human-driven counterparts.
The NHTSA said: “The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) analysed mileage and airbag deployment data supplied by Tesla for 2014 through 2016 Model S and 2016 Model X vehicles equipped with the Autopilot Technology Package, either installed in the vehicle when sold or through an update, to calculate crash rates by miles travelled prior to and after Autopilot installation. The data show that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40% after Autosteer installation.”
Autosteer is the main component of Autopilot, keeping the car in its lane and maintaining its speed in relation to surrounding traffic. Autopilot also includes parking assistance functions.
In regard to the May 2016 crash, the NHTSA concluded that the driver, Joshua Brown, was at fault, as he had set the Model S on Autopilot at 74 mph less than two minutes before the accident, and took no evasive measures as he neared impact with the truck.
The company was tersely pleased, saying: “At Tesla, the safety of our customers comes first, and we appreciate the thoroughness of NHTSA’s report and its conclusion.”