Tesla has the most accidents

Tesla has the most accidents

Tesla is one of the leaders in developing technology that assists drivers. It’s also the leader in accidents due to driver assistance systems. But safety data accumulated by regulators might not be as useful in determining the safety of this novel technology at this point in time.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, requires that all auto makers report any incident when Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, were in use within 30 seconds of a significant crash. The NHTSA puts the crash data on its website for anyone to review.

Level 2 ADAS are an amalgamation of several features, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and more. While cars are getting smarter, and some can even drive themselves with minimal human intervention, no vehicle can truly drive itself yet. These features are designed to help drivers, who still must keep their eyes on the road and hands on the steering wheel.

So what counts as Level 2 ADAS? Tesla’s Autopilot, Advanced Autopilot, and Full Self Driving, or FSD; as well as Ford Motor’s (F) Blue Cruise; General Motors ’ (GM) Super Cruise and Ultra Cruise; Volvo’s Pilot Assist; and Honda Motor’s (HMC) Honda Sensing.

Tesla leads the number of incidents reported by the NHTSA with Level 2 ADAS equipped by a mile. The electric-vehicle maker accounts for roughly 800 accidents, or a little more than 80% of all those reported since July 2021.

But there’s a very big catch. Just under 80% of all accidents reported to NHTSA come from vehicle telematics data. That means the car, which is connected to a data network, tells the auto maker who then tells the NHTSA that an accident has happened with ADAS engaged. Tesla has the largest population of connected vehicles in the U.S. by far.

Tesla has about 1.7 million connected vehicles on U.S. roads. Ford told Barron’s that most of its vehicles on the road aren’t connected to a network and they don’t tell it what happened. GM said that vehicles with ADAS systems and with an active OnStar subscription can tell the company what happened, but that number is in the tens of thousands.

The NHTSA’s mandate is to improve road safety. The potential for misusing and misapplying ADAS is one reason NHTSA tracks these accidents. Drivers might pay less attention because they know they have some protection with these systems. For example, it’s easier to believe that a driver will text while driving because they have engaged Autopilot.

NHTSA, for its part, says telemetry data varies “widely by manufacturer.” Without telemetry data, auto makers rely on consumer reports of an ADAS system involved in a crash, which can cause data delays “if the manufacturer is notified at all,” according to the NHTSA. The agency also warns about the danger of taking ADAS crash data out of context.

That’s why the NHTSA doesn’t act rashly on crash data. Still, Tesla doesn’t get a pass; the agency is investigating Tesla’s Autopilot and has mandated changes to the system’s functions via recalls.

NHTSA sees the upside of ADAS. These systems “hold the potential to reduce traffic crashes and save thousands of lives each year,” reads the NHTSA primer on ADAS. It notes that in 2021, 42,939 people died in motor vehicle crashes.

For context, if car fatalies were happening at the same rate as they were in 1913, there would be about 800,000 deaths a year due to automobile accidents. Seat belts, anti-lock brakes, air bags, legislation, and early ADAS have all helped to cut those numbers.

Still, ADAS is a little different than air bags, a less controversial innovation. And the most advanced driver assistance systems require some training.

“The auto maker has a responsibility to educate [drivers],” says Luminar Technologies CEO Austin Russell, adding that education isn’t happening as much as it should with Level 2 ADAS. Luminar makes lidar systems, which is essentially a set of eyes for cars that help enable many advanced safety features. It’s being adopted by many auto makers including Volvo.

Telsa’s approach to self-driving car technology is, by most accounts, the most aggressive in the industry. CEO Elon Musk regularly makes predictions about when his vehicles will achieve true self-driving.

So far his predictions have been wrong. But not getting the timeline right doesn’t mean that Tesla vehicles are unsafe, and it doesn’t mean that Tesla’s ADAS fails to improve safety. It also doesn’t show that Teslas are safer than other ADAS-equipped vehicles.

Without more telematic data from other auto makers, those questions are difficult to answer right now. Someday, we’ll have that information.

Tesla stock is up 4% in midday trading Tuesday, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite are down 0.3% and 0.1%, respectively. The EV maker’s stock hasn’t reacted much to NHTSA-generated safety data. The jump appears to be a result of a deal with Rivian to use Tesla’s charging plug.

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