By Johnna Crider and Zach Shahan
Tesla has released its Autopilot Safety Report for Q4 of 2019, and the results are again positive for Tesla, but also more complicated than they may seem on first glance. Let’s dive into the numbers quickly first.
Tesla Autopilot = Fewer Accidents
On its website, Tesla states that, “In the 4th quarter, we have registered one accident for every 3.07 million miles driven in which the drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.10 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.63 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States, there is an automobile accident crash every 479,000 miles.”
If the interactive chart above doesn’t work for you, try viewing it on a normal computer (not a phone) or click to view this static image.
Quarter-to-Quarter Increase in Accident Rate
In a thread in the Tesla Motors Club forum, Diplomat33 said that if his math was correct this is a 29% drop in safety relative to Q3 2019, and he asks for any thoughts as to why. One idea was: perhaps this shows that owners are becoming overconfident with Autopilot. I’m going to share some of my thoughts.
First of all, though, let’s recognize that 1 accident out of every 3.07 million miles driven is ~6.4× better than 1 accident every 479,000 miles (US average). That said, there are various differences that can have influence here, including when Autopilot is used (in less challenging environments). Still, the data we do have doesn’t indicate Autopilot is something to more heavily regulate or disallow, as some have advocated. There are people who abuse the system, and we could always use less of that, but the net effect of the technology seems to clearly be positive. (We’ll come back to this topic at the end of the article.)
In response to the forum post mentioned above, a couple of people mentioned the weather as the likely source of more accidents per mile, compared to the 3rd quarter. Generally speaking, more rain and snow in the 4th quarter leads to more accidents.
Indeed, if you compare year-over-year data, Tesla Autopilot had better results in Q4 2019 compared to Q4 2018 (more miles between accidents). It also had better results in Q3 2019 compared to Q3 2018. In other words, Tesla Autopilot continues to improve, but the seasons still have influence over accident rates.
Perfect Is Not Realistic
Coming back to the matter of abusing the system, or expecting it to work perfectly and not adequately paying attention to the road, people will always be a source of error. We don’t see Budweiser or other alcoholic beverage makers being penalized for those who get into cars drunk and drive them. We also don’t see local bars or restaurants get scolded for serving drinks to people who end up driving afterward. According to the NHTSA, around 30 people die in the US every day due to crashes involving a drunk driver. This is one person every 50 minutes.
If restaurants and beverage makers aren’t responsible for the people who consume their products and misuse them, if automakers other than Tesla aren’t responsible for the way people drive their vehicles, then why should Tesla be responsible if people abuse Autopilot’s capabilities and neglect their duty as the driver? I mean, I am sure that Tesla doesn’t like the fact that there are people abusing it, but why is it expected to do something more than what it can do when other companies who create other products — such as alcoholic beverages, or less advanced cruise control systems for that matter — aren’t expected to solve the problem of people misusing their products?
My point is that Tesla isn’t responsible for people who choose to abuse the system. If you are behind the wheel of the car, then you need to act responsibly. Simple as that.
Every holiday season, hundreds of lives are lost due to drunk drivers. Nationally, over the past 5 years, an average of 300 people died in drunk driving crashes the week between Christmas and New Year. #ArriveAlive #DontDrinkAndDrive #SafeAndProsperousNewYear pic.twitter.com/74NzLUgnUn
— ATCEMS (@ATCEMS) December 30, 2019
One thing we know for sure is that Tesla is committed to safety — human safety is why Tesla vehicles exist. The Model 3, Model S, and Model X have received the 3 best scores ever from the NHTSA on the topic of probability of injury.
All the data we’ve seen — as well as the stories and videos of numerous Tesla drivers — indicate that Tesla vehicles are extremely safe (relative to other cars) and Autopilot makes them even safer.
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