The US traffic safety agency NHTSA has been investigating Tesla's driver assistance systems for several years due to various accidents. There are also several investigations into a number of fatal incidents. An evaluation by the "Washington Post" has now shown that the number of accidents is significantly higher than previously assumed.
According to the report, there have been 736 accidents involving Tesla Autopilot in the United States since 2019. The number has skyrocketed over the past four years - as has the number of injured and dead, they say.
While the US authorities in June 2022 certainly attributed three fatal accidents to Tesla autopilot, the latest figures are said to come to a different conclusion. Accordingly, there have been at least 17 fatal incidents of this type, 11 of them since May 2022, writes the "Washington Post". And according to the report, clear patterns could be identified: in four cases, a motorcycle was involved, in one case an emergency vehicle.
This agrees with older reports that there had been repeated rear-end collisions in the past from computer-controlled Teslas into stationary fire engines and ambulances with the warning lights switched on. The NHTSA therefore initiated investigations in 2021. Because at that time, a regulation came into force in the USA that obliges car manufacturers to disclose accidents with driver assistance systems. The traffic safety authority then began to collect the data. In addition, the expansion of functions and the replacement of radar sensors by cameras appeared to have led to the reported increase.
Tesla and CEO Elon Musk left a request from the Washington Post unanswered for comment. However, Musk basically states that the autopilot should be safer than vehicle control by a human.
NHTSA cautioned that an accident report involving Tesla Autopilot does not mean that the technology is actually at fault in the accident. Spokesperson Veronica Morales told the Washington Post: "NHTSA reminds the public that all advanced driver assistance systems require the human driver to be in control of the vehicle at all times and fully focused on the task of driving. Accordingly, in all states, the human drivers responsible for the operation of their vehicles."
And it is not always possible to say with certainty whether an accident occurred with or without Tesla Autopilot. However, since the obligation to report was introduced, 807 accidents have been registered that can be traced back to an automated driving mode. Almost all of the fatal accidents involved Tesla vehicles, although the US electric car manufacturer is also pushing ahead with automated driving more aggressively than other manufacturers.
While the number of Tesla car crashes is fairly small compared to the total road traffic death toll of more than 40,000 in 2022, former NHTSA safety adviser Missy Cummings, a professor in George Mason University's College of Engineering and Computing, finds the increase in Tesla accidents worrying. She suspected that the trial introduction of "Full Self-Driving" over the past year and a half, which can, among other things, follow traffic lights and traffic signs and is therefore supposed to navigate a Tesla independently through the city, is responsible for the increase in accidents. She addresses the fact that... "anyone can have it."
"Is it reasonable to expect this to lead to increased accident rates? Sure, absolutely," she said. In fact, after the introduction of "Full Self-Driving", the number of users rose from around 12,000 to almost 400,000 users in just over a year. It is not known which of the two technologies - autopilot or "full self-driving" - was used in the fatal accidents.
"A significantly higher number is certainly a cause for concern," said Philip Koopman, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University who researches autonomous vehicle safety. "We need to find out if this is due to actually worse accidents or if there is another factor, such as a dramatically higher number of kilometers driven with autopilot on." In any case, Tesla claimed in a March presentation that the accident rate for "full self-driving" vehicles is at least one-fifth that of vehicles in normal driving when comparing the kilometers driven per collision. Multiple investigations are ongoing at NHTSA into Tesla's accidents and other issues with its driver-assistance software.
Sources: Washington Post