The Dangers of Self-Driving Cars
On June 15, 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released data on crashes involving self-driving cars over the past 11 months. This is the first time the federal government is collecting data for this type of technology and the implications could help shape the future of automated cars.
In April 2019, all of Tesla’s new cars came with Autopilot, including Autosteer and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control. This feature has given consumers a new driving experience, designed to make driving a lot easier. While drivers are warned to still be attentive, this technological advancement may have contributed to more absent-minded drivers on the road. With Tesla and other self-driving cars becoming increasingly popular, NHTSA issued a Standing General Order. The order requires manufacturers and operators to report crashes with automated driving systems. The crash report includes data from over 500 crashes occurring from July 2021 to May 15, 2022.
SAE Level 2: Advanced Driver Assistance Systems
Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) offer both steering and speed input while allowing the driver to brake, accelerate, and steer independently. Vehicles equipped with these systems resulted in 392 reported crashes. Of those crashes, six people died and five were seriously injured. These cars are designed to allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel and can even assist in parallel parking. So why are they resulting in so many accidents? Drivers may be too comfortable with the vehicle’s automated features and are unprepared to take control if the technology becomes defective. Understanding the correlation between system malfunctions and driver awareness could help researchers discover possible defect trends that can help manufacturers develop a safer driving experience in the future.
SAE Level 3-5: Automated Driving Systems
Automated Driving Systems (ADS) are designed to perform the entire driving task without any interference from the driver. These completely self-driving cars resulted in 130 crashes since the Standing General Order, as of May 15, 2022. Crashes with ADS had no reported fatalities, and just one person was seriously injured. A majority of crashes were a result of telematics. Improving the telematics system in these vehicles will provide a combination of stronger real-time sensors and improved algorithms that minimize the risk of collisions.
What is at Stake for Tesla?
Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, stated that the fine line between Tesla being, “worth a lot of money or worth basically zero”, is proportionate to whether they can solve the issue of self-driving technology. Musk’s Full Self-Driving Service allows cars to change lanes, park, and recognize traffic signals without driver intervention. Complete driver attention is still needed, but that warning has yet to resolve the problem at hand. In the crash report released from NHTSA, Tesla accounted for 70% of the reported crashes and resulted in five of the six reported fatalities. Since the crash report was released, Tesla shares are down 41% from their peak numbers earlier this year. With the continuation of ADAS and ADA crash reports, companies like Tesla are likely to provide more cautionary objectives to resolve accidents. Additionally, it could prompt further investigations that determine the root cause of the accidents to improve faults in the driver-assisted systems.
While it’s safe to say there’s a lot of room for improvement in self-driving cars, we are still very early into the stages of diagnosing problems. Continuing to collect data will hopefully help identify defect trends, malfunctions, and driver errors. This newly available information is a great start to enhancing self-driving cars and decreasing their crash rate over time.
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