Self-Driving Technology Linked to Hundreds of Crashes, NTHSA Report Raises Many Questions

Self-driving technology linked to hundreds of crashes 6 photos
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Tesla Autopilot SystemSelf-driving technology linked to hundreds of crashesSelf-driving technology linked to hundreds of crashesSelf-driving technology linked to hundreds of crashesSelf-driving technology linked to hundreds of crashes
Ten months ago, the NHTSA started gathering data on car crashes that happened while advanced driver assistance systems were active. Now, it released a report showing that those systems might be responsible for hundreds of accidents, most of them involving Tesla vehicles. But the report raises more questions than it answers, as Steven Cliff, the agency’s administrator, admitted.
Last year, after opening around 30 investigations related to Tesla Autopilot, the NHTSA issued a Standing General Order requiring carmakers to report any crash involving autonomous vehicles (SAE Level 3-5) and vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems (SAE Level 2) active at the crash moment. Ten months later, the agency released a report for each of these categories, painting a bleak picture of the role of the assistance and automated driving systems in hundreds of car crashes.

According to the report, ADAS-equipped vehicles were involved in 392 crashes between July 1, 2021, and May 15, 2022. Six people lost their lives, and five were seriously injured. As you’d imagine, Tesla vehicles account for most of the crashes, 273 to be more precise. Other 90 crashes involved Honda vehicles, while Subaru accounted for 10. Ford, General Motors, BMW, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai, and Porsche reported five or fewer.

I know how this sounds. I read several articles on this subject, and with very few exceptions, all blamed Tesla without offering more context to their readers. This is surprising, considering the reports contain many disclaimers and warnings about the limitations of the data-gathering process.

For instance, crash data reporting and telemetry vary widely by manufacturer and driving automation system. Many Level 2 ADAS-equipped vehicles don’t report data related to driving automation system engagement and crash circumstances. This leaves it to the driver to report the crash to the manufacturer, an unlikely event. This way, a Level 2 ADAS-equipped vehicle manufacturer with access to advanced data recording and telemetry may report a higher number of crashes than a manufacturer with limited access.

Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s administrator, admitted that the data is far from perfect and needs to be taken with a grain of salt. He revealed that the report does not take into account the number of cars on the road from each manufacturer or the number of miles driven by those cars. “The data may raise more questions than they answer,” Dr. Cliff admitted.

According to The New York Times, about 830,000 Tesla cars are in the U.S., all equipped with Autopilot or Full Self-Driving. This partly explains why the EV maker accounts for 70% of the reported crashes. Far fewer ADAS-equipped vehicles from Ford, GM, or BMW were sold in the U.S. If you look at the charts in the document attached, you see that California is a dangerous place for automated driving vehicles. It’s normal since the Golden State is where most Teslas and other advanced EVs are sold.

In the second report, Waymo is responsible for more than half of the crashes involving autonomous vehicles. Out of 130 accidents, 62 involved Waymo cars. Cruise, which just started offering driverless taxi services, had 23 vehicles involved in crashes.
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 Download: Crash Reporting for Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (PDF)

About the author: Cristian Agatie
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After his childhood dream of becoming a "tractor operator" didn't pan out, Cristian turned to journalism, first in print and later moving to online media. His top interests are electric vehicles and new energy solutions.
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