More and more data is being gathered from tracking improvement in Tesla’s Autopilot system. Since 2018, the Californian brand has closely followed the evolution of its semi-autonomous driving style. Each quarter, it publishes a report on the number of accidents involving its cars, differentiating between those that occurred in conventional driving without active aids, in driving with the aids, and in driving with the Autopilot mode engaged.
A questionable comparison
On the occasion of the release of the Q1 2021 report, Elon Musk shared a very wobbly conclusion about Tesla’s numbers. The billionaire tweeted that “The risk of accident is ten times lower for a Tesla equipped with the activated Autopilot system than for a conventional vehicle”. He then shared a link to the report in question. To arrive at this observation, he unfortunately forgot a detail that still weighs on Autopilot to be able to make a comparison with human driving.
Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle https://t.co/6lGy52wVhC
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 17, 2021
With Autopilot mode activated, there would be 10 times less risk of accident? To arrive at this argument, Elon Musk based himself on the data of the accidents which occurred the first quarter compared to the number of total kilometers driven. Tesla reports as follows:
“In the first quarter, we recorded an accident for 6.7 million km driven in which the drivers had activated Autopilot. For those who drive without an autopilot but with our active safety features, we have recorded an accident for every 3.3 million km driven. For those who drive without autopilot and without our active safety features, we have recorded one accident for every 1.5 million km driven. For comparison, the most recent NHTSA data shows that in the United States there is an accident every 778,000 km. “
It thus seems consistent to conclude that Tesla with Autopilot mode engaged recorded an accident risk ten times lower than conventional cars in the United States, driven without semi-autonomous mode, as Elon Musk suggests. The argument is however incorrect because most of the kilometers traveled with Autopilot mode concern portions of the motorway. Sectors much less dangerous than other asphalts: in town and on roads in rural areas, with two directions of traffic.
“It’s not an ideal way to look at this data because of the way autopilot is used in Tesla vehicles.”, commented Fred Lambert, editor of the specialized site Electrek. The journalist also explained that compared with the data for the first quarter of 2020, the Tesla in Autopilot mode had a higher risk of accidents this year: 4.19 million miles (2021) against 4.68 million miles (2020). But the copies in circulation are also more numerous.
While waiting for “FSD” mode
The comments of the CEO of Tesla do not come at the right time, as the authorities in Texas informed yesterday of a fatal accident aboard a Model S. According to the latest elements of the investigation, the exit from the road of the sedan would have been produced at high speed while “No one sat in the driver’s seat” reports local channel KPRC 2.
Two men dead after fiery crash in Tesla Model S.
“[Investigators] are 100-percent certain that no one was in the driver seat driving that vehicle at the time of impact, ”Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said. “They are positive.” # KHOU11 https://t.co/q57qfIXT4f pic.twitter.com/eQMwpSMLt2
– Matt Dougherty (@MattKHOU) April 18, 2021
We will therefore have to wait for Tesla to democratize its latest versions of the Autopilot “FSD” (Full Self-Driving) on a larger scale. This future version of Autopilot, claiming a 100% autonomous mode, is starting to roll out among some beta testers. By comparison with the Autopilot that we know in France, it also allows you to travel in the city, as these impressive images show.
With FSD mode, Tesla will be able to start comparing itself with the average crash risk for cars without autonomous driving equipment. The kilometers traveled will include portions in town, in the countryside and on the motorway. A measure closer to that advanced by Tesla and Elon Musk in their report.