Tesla released a new quarterly safety report for Q3 2018 that hints at a desire to make the safety of its vehicles a more visible differentiator versus the competition. The decision to increase the visibility of vehicle safety data was made earlier this year when certain news prompted Tesla to design and implement a new vehicle data system to provide more meaningful safety data from customer vehicles.
Our relatively new report on this topic, The EV Safety Advantage, highlights multiple ways that electric cars are — or can be — inherently safer than gasoline cars (aka gasmobiles). The have better crumple zones, lower centers of gravity, and lower fire risk. They also perform better when it comes to insurance claims. Throughout the report (which will soon be updated as more Model 3 scores come in), Tesla, in particular, shines. Tesla is now eager to show us via monthly updates more of the stats — highlighting what the result is when your cars get 5 stars in every single testing category.
The new report highlights that, based on these new streams of data, there has been “one accident or crash-like event for every 3.34 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged.”
The current implementation of Autopilot is intended to only be used on freeways, after merging onto the freeway up until the time comes to exit. These are generally the most predictable situations in which to drive, but the stats still paint a very favorable picture of the safety of Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot solution for use cases it was designed for.
For the times when Autopilot was not or could not be used, Tesla shared that it identified “one accident or crash-like event for every 1.92 million miles.” That contrasts with the most recent data provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showing that there is an automobile crash every 492,000 miles in the United States.
Tesla’s data set also included events described as “near misses” that it was able to detect from its close watch on Tesla vehicles. The NHTSA’s data set, of course, only includes confirmed accidents that were recorded. Having said that, there are surely accidents that occurred that were not reported as well, and thus, not included in the NHTSA data set, but such are the realities of aggregated data sets.
The data provided show that vehicles using Tesla’s Enhanced Autopilot (EAP) solution are some 6.7 times less likely to get into an accident than an average driver and vehicle combo. Without Autopilot, for the situations where it can’t be used or the driver has not purchased it, Tesla’s vehicles are still an impressive 4× less likely to get into an accident.
Tesla attributes the impressive safety results to the robustness of its EAP solution, which it has bolstered with data that it pulls from its fleet of deployed customer cars, whether they’re using EAP or not. This ability is a direct function of Tesla’s sales model that establishes a direct relationship with customers from the get go. That relationship is carried forward through Tesla’s smartphone app, web portal, and most importantly, the regular flow of firmware updates to its products that offer increased functionality or product stability.
Tesla has leveraged firmware updates to improve the safety of its vehicles in the past, most notably in response to Consumer Reports’ criticism of repeated 0–60 braking tests with the Model 3. Tesla flagged the issue and had a fix sent out to its entire deployed fleet of Model 3s in about a week.
Elon regularly shares updates on Twitter about features they’re working on, many of which are safety focused. Blind spot detection is a notable gap in the Model 3 compared to the competition, as is the lack of a rear cross traffic alert system for cars passing by the rear of the car when in reverse.
The upshot on these is that Tesla may be able to address them via future firmware updates. The company could improve the systems, but the lack of an LED notification in the mirrors for a more traditional blind spot detection system is likely a hardware constraint that can’t easily be worked around in current vehicles. Alternately, an audible alert could augment the current system to more clearly indicate imminent safety issues.
Tesla shared that it plans to issue similar quarterly safety reports moving forward, which will help establish a regular cadence of updates that will put data behind its progress (or lack thereof) with each subsequent quarter.