Tesla have revealed that a vehicle which crashed into a barrier, killing the driver, was operating on autopilot.
The fatal accident which occurred on March 23rd in California has now bought into further question the safety of self-driving vehicles.
Tesla said the following in a statement:
“We have been working as quickly as possible to establish the facts of last week’s accident. Our hearts are with the family and friends who have been affected by this tragedy.
The safety of our customers is our top priority, which is why we are working closely with investigators to understand what happened, and what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future. After the logs from the computer inside the vehicle were recovered, we have more information about what may have happened.
In the moments before the collision, which occurred at 9:27 a.m. on Friday, March 23rd, Autopilot was engaged with the adaptive cruise control follow-distance set to minimum. The driver had received several visual and one audible hands-on warning earlier in the drive and the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. The driver had about five seconds and 150 meters of unobstructed view of the concrete divider with the crushed crash attenuator, but the vehicle logs show that no action was taken.
The reason this crash was so severe is because the crash attenuator, a highway safety barrier which is designed to reduce the impact into a concrete lane divider, had been crushed in a prior accident without being replaced. We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash.
Over a year ago, our first iteration of Autopilot was found by the U.S. government to reduce crash rates by as much as 40%. Internal data confirms that recent updates to Autopilot have improved system reliability.
In the US, there is one automotive fatality every 86 million miles across all vehicles from all manufacturers. For Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian fatalities, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with Autopilot hardware. If you are driving a Tesla equipped with Autopilot hardware, you are 3.7 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident.
Tesla Autopilot does not prevent all accidents – such a standard would be impossible – but it makes them much less likely to occur. It unequivocally makes the world safer for the vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists.
No one knows about the accidents that didn’t happen, only the ones that did. The consequences of the public not using Autopilot, because of an inaccurate belief that it is less safe, would be extremely severe. There are about 1.25 million automotive deaths worldwide. If the current safety level of a Tesla vehicle were to be applied, it would mean about 900,000 lives saved per year. We expect the safety level of autonomous cars to be 10 times safer than non-autonomous cars.
In the past, when we have brought up statistical safety points, we have been criticized for doing so, implying that we lack empathy for the tragedy that just occurred. Nothing could be further from the truth. We care deeply for and feel indebted to those who chose to put their trust in us. However, we must also care about people now and in the future whose lives may be saved if they know that Autopilot improves safety. None of this changes how devastating an event like this is or how much we feel for our customer's family and friends. We are incredibly sorry for their loss.
It is unclear as to whether the Tesla's sensors had detected the barrier, however this isn't the first fatality involving a Tesla. In 2016 one of the vehicles failed to detect a lorry which had been crossing its path, also killing the vehicles occupant.
Combined with the recent fatality involving an autonomous Uber vehicle, serious questions surrounding the safety of self-driving or autonomous vehicles have been recently raised.