On the face of it, data from the first year of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration A project to track the safety of advanced driver assistance systems sounds daunting for Tesla. Its electric vehicles were involved in 70% of accidents reported using Level 2 technologies, 60% of those that resulted in serious injuries and about 85% of fatal accidents.
The The data was released early Wednesday It was collected under the federal regulator’s permanent general order issued last June, which requires automakers to report the most serious accidents involving ADAS Level 2, which require a human driver to remain fully engaged in the driving task. NHTSA also tracks crashes involving fully automated vehicles—none of which are currently available to consumers.
There are five levels of automation according to standards established by SAE International. Level 2 means that two functions such as adaptive cruise and lane keeping are automated and there is still a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 2 is an advanced driver assistance system, which is becoming increasingly popular in new cars.
Tesla tops ADAS’s list for all the wrong reasons: 273 reported accidents, three serious injuries, and five deaths. Honda trailed Tesla by a large margin with 90 crashes and one fatality, while most other manufacturers reported only a few. Nissan reported absolutely nothing.
So does that mean Tesla owners should trade their Model 3 with Autopilot for the Nissan Leaf, and its Level 2 ADAS, called the ProPilot?
It’s a more complex question than one might think. method written ordertechnologies deployed by Tesla, and the sheer number of Tesla cars on the road mean their vehicles may not be quite as dangerous as the numbers suggest.
For a start, there are more ADAS-equipped Teslas on the road (about 830,000) than vehicles from other manufacturers, although Nissan isn’t far behind, with 560,000.
Tesla’s autopilot can also be used on a variety of roads, unlike Nissan’s ProPilot systems and GM’s SuperCruise systems, which are limited to highways. Without knowing how many miles traveled with each ADAS system in operation, and where it would be impossible to compare relative safety levels — or how each might contrast with accident rates under full human control.
The order required manufacturers to report all accidents they know about, but most vehicles on the road don’t have remote technologies that send vehicle data back to the factory. The manufacturers of these cars were relying on consumer complaints (which made up the majority of reports), law enforcement contacts or media stories, all of which may not have accurately reported whether their ADAS systems were in use.
On the other hand, Tesla knows exactly which vehicles were on autopilot when it crashed, as its vehicles have cellular connections and Wi-Fi that automatically reports the vehicle’s data when an accident occurs. Almost all of the crash reports were obtained from these telematics, compared to only nine from Subaru, four from General Motors, three from Lucid and one from Honda.
Finally, the order asked decision makers to include data on malfunctions that they were told had started 10 days after the order was submitted last June. In Tesla’s case, that obviously included accidents extending into 2019, including three out of five fatal crashes, and three serious ones. (It’s unclear why Tesla was notified of these incidents months or years after they occurred.) Aside from Tesla, Honda only reported two crashes before June 2021.
While all of these variables seem to point in the same direction — the relative overreporting of Tesla accident data, and the underreporting of crashes involving other automakers — it’s impossible to determine their impact from the NHTSA data alone. All Level 2 systems are probably more dangerous than just human drivers, due to the driver’s inattention. Or it may be that Tesla’s autopilot as deployed is actually less efficient and more dangerous than competing ADAS technologies.
“The data released today is a good start, but it does not provide an apples-to-apples comparison in terms of advanced vehicle safety,” said National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homedy. “What the NHTSA presented was a ‘fruit bowl’ of data with a lot of caveats, making it difficult for the public and experts alike to understand what was being reported. Independent analysis of the data is key to identifying any safety gaps and potential treatments.”
The last word on autopilot has to wait for NHTSA A separate, ongoing, and recently expanded investigation On autopilot, which may result in a recall. In the meantime, drivers who have Level 2 systems in their cars are being advised to heed NHTSA advice – “No commercially available automated cars today are capable of driving themselves.”