Dark Side of Tesla Autopilot: NHTSA Data Reveals 736 Crashes, 17 Deaths


Tesla's Autopilot, which lets the vehicle drive under supervised autonomy under certain conditions, may have been responsible for way more road accidents than previous estimates. New data reveals disturbing numbers---Autopilot was involved in 736 crashes in the U.S. since 2019, 17 of which were fatal. Eleven of those deaths have occurred since May 2022.

The shocking results were revealed in the Washington Post's analysis of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data. While the data doesn't indicate the number of accidents Tesla’s driver assistance features may have averted, the new crash figures reveal possible pitfalls of autonomous driving, at least at the current development stage.

The report also reveals the uptick in accidents could be due to the removal of radar---radio detection and ranging---from Teslas. In 2021, the brand announced it will rely solely on camera-based vision processing. Every Tesla has eight external cameras to map the surroundings.

Due to the recent spike in crashes, there are multiple ongoing investigations involving the technology, according to NHTSA. Meanwhile, CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly emphasized the benefits of Autopilot.

The NHTSA data doesn’t capture the exact crash details. In some incidents, it is unknown whether users had the Autopilot or FSD on. There are reportedly 800,000 Teslas on U.S. roads that have Autopilot, and Tesla is pushing ahead with further development and wider implementation.

Every Tesla gets standard Autopilot features such as adaptive cruise control, which allows the vehicle to match the speed of the traffic in front of it, and accelerate or brake depending on the conditions. Standard equipment also includes auto steer, wherein the vehicle assists in steering on clearly marked lanes.

On top of that, Teslas can be equipped with Enhanced Autopilot capability, which allows the vehicle to navigate roads autonomously, and also changes lanes on its own, among other functions. Buyers can also purchase the Full-Self Driving (FSD) suite, wherein the vehicle can make active decisions based on traffic sign recognition.

Tesla clearly mentions on its website the aforementioned features do not make its vehicles completely autonomous: "The currently enabled Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. Full autonomy will be dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience," the website says.

In February, NHTSA announced Tesla would recall 360,000 vehicles equipped with FSD beta due to the increased risk of crashes. However, there are conflicting reports of the Autopilot’s effectiveness. Tesla’s Vehicle Safety report for Q4 2022 said 35% of all Autopilot crashes occur when the vehicle is rear-ended by another vehicle. Moreover, there’s one autopilot accident every 4.8 million miles driven, per Tesla.

However, until Tesla releases the data it possesses, it would be impossible to verify its claims. For now, the NHTSA data signals the vast majority of 807 autopilot-related accidents since 2021 involved Tesla cars.

We thank InsideEVs for reprint permission.

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