Changes In Accident Rates From Autopilot — When Will Tesla Identify Them? When Will We Know?

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Originally published on EV Obsession.

How soon will Tesla know if use of the new autopilot feature reduces overall auto accident rates amongst users? Given the greatly detailed information that Tesla gathers regarding driving patterns and events, one would presume… not that long from now.

Though I suppose that perhaps there may be advantages to waiting awhile to publicly reveal what’s known (presuming that the company does end up sharing publicly)?



It’ll also be interesting to see if there are substantial regional differences, or perhaps substantial differences even amongst cities in the same region. I’m particularly interested in seeing how the autopilot function performs during the winter months in snowy regions.

This topic was brought up recently on the Tesla Motors Club forum by “calisnow,” in a post speculating on the subject. Here’s the comment:

I’m guessing the fleet is large enough that there are large sample sizes of:

1 – Pre-autopilot cars
2 – Autopilot cars with the feature turned on
3 – Autopilot cars with the feature turned off

Since Tesla knows where you are, your speed, and whether or not your car is using autopilot I would think they could very quickly amass data to form a conclusion as to whether or not Autopilot is reducing accident rates (despite the fact that it may in some cases make its own error, or lull some drivers into unsafe behavior) overall.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in whatever cubicle belongs to the Tesla data analyst(s) who are examining accident rates and their relationship (or lack of relationship) to the use of autopilot.

Having now used it for a couple of days on freeways in So Cal my gut guess is that it will reduce accident rates in the fleet even in its current, early beta form.

Despite its limited and imperfect “vision” and primitive decision making abilities, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that statistically, those weaknesses are overcome by its major strength – the fact that it never stops paying attention to its surroundings.

It doesn’t get distracted with a phone call, a cappuccino, a billboard, an attractive human being in a nearby car or a hundred other things – and it never gets road rage.

Interesting things to contemplate.

That last comment about road rage had me laughing a bit, but I can’t help but wonder if autonomous driving technologies will simply redirect road rage away from other drivers, and at the autonomous driving technology itself. Many people seem to get quite mad at computers (and phones, video games, etc) that don’t do exactly what they want them to do, when they want. I can quite easily picture a red-faced and obese person raging at an autonomous Roush-built Apple car. Can’t you? The future….

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

James Ayre has 4830 posts and counting. See all posts by James Ayre

8 thoughts on “Changes In Accident Rates From Autopilot — When Will Tesla Identify Them? When Will We Know?

  • Given the large sample sizes of…

    1 – Pre-autopilot cars
    2 – Autopilot cars with the feature turned on
    3 – Autopilot cars with the feature turned off

    …and the number of miles covered and accidents by drivers in all three groups, and the detailed information they receive, they may be capable of provisionally running these calculations already. A reason they may not wish to soon publish the findings is that by publicizing the results they may change behavior. If it’s safer without auto-pilot, people may turn it off. If it’s safer with auto-pilot, drivers may use AP when it’s unsafe to do so, or without proper supervision.

    A few other things to consider, drivers seem to be using AP on freeways most, when I suspect few accidents occur, so this will reduce the number of accidents recorded and make statistically significant findings harder to obtain. Also, it could be the new safety features (ie. auto-braking, collision avoidance?) which are independent of AP which are reducing accidents, so AP may have less of a safety benefit than we hope.

    • Agreed PJ. The new Auto Braking feature will be the real accident avoidance aspect of newer Tesla’s with the Tech Package.

  • I expect that in a year or two, we will see insurance companies giving a discount for cars that have the auto-pilot features.

    • Insurance companies are already talking about rate decreases. AllState, IIRC, spoke publicly about finding new business opportunities as they see their auto business shrinking.

  • I would expect that the accident rate may continue to go down as more and more cars are equipped with the feature. As it stands you may watch your Tesla gracefully come to a stop as the distracted moron behind you plows into your trunk.

  • Turns out you are right! after 46million miles of samples, accident rate is 50% of non autipilot miles!!

    • Where’s that data found?

  • “Here are Musk’s exact words:

    “The probability of having an accident is 50% lower if you have Autopilot on. Even with our first version. So we can see basically what’s the average number of kilometers to an accident – accident defined by airbag deployment. Even with this early version, it’s almost twice as good as a person.””

    From your link. Sounds good.

    I’d like to know more about the autopilot airbag incidents. Guess we’ll have to wait for that info.

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