The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released a report documenting statistics on crashes and fatalities involving autonomous vehicles (AV) and vehicles equipped with advanced driver-assist systems (ADAS). The report is issued in the midst of an unexpected increase in the number of deaths resulting from automobile crashes in 2021. Statistics show 2021 saw more deaths from automobile crashes than any year in the past three decades!
Could the increase in automobile crash deaths in any way relate to the increase in number of vehicles equipped with the new ADA and AV technology? The NHTSA report is careful not to draw any immediate conclusions with respect to that question.
Of all the vehicles reporting crashes, Tesla reported the most – 273; with Honda reporting the next closest at 90 vehicle crashes. Tesla receives its crash data in real-time versus other manufacturers who rely on other methods such as customer reports; resulting in the higher number of crashes reported. This “autopilot” technology is under scrutiny by the NHTSA, the agency is reportedly investigating nearly 3 dozen incidents in the United States having to do with Tesla’s autopilot technology.
The data presented by the NHTSA is far too preliminary to draw any hard conclusions. The NHTSA has promised to release new data on a regular basis moving forward to provide transparency in this new and developing age of ADA/AV-equipped vehicles. The manufacturers of these vehicles have insisted that their “autopilot” products are safer than vehicles driven by humans despite there being a 10.5% increase in reports and 42,915 crash-related fatalities since 2020. The NHTSA will no doubt be focusing a good part of its evaluation on these vehicles equipped with ADA/AV technology. At the end of the day, it's too early to conclude whether vehicles equipped with this technology really do provide a safer driving experience over vehicles not equipped with the technology. For now, it's probably important to emphasize that anyone driving these vehicles should not rely exclusively upon the technology but rather continue to remain vigilant in the safe operation of these vehicles in order to prevent unnecessary loss of life or injury.