- NHTSA data on crashes involving driver assistance technology show that more people have been injured and killed since Tesla expanded its use of its Fully Self-Driving technology.
- The Washington Post analyzed NHTSA numbers and found Autopilot was involved in 736 crashes since 2019, including 17 fatalities.
- NHTSA is currently investigating how Autopilot technology interacts with stopped emergency vehicles, something that has been a known problem for years.
Tesla’s Autopilot software has been involved in more deaths and injuries than previously known: a total of 17 deaths and 736 accidents since 2019, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analyzed by Washington Post.
Officially, Telsa describes Autopilot as a “SAE Level 2 driving automation system designed to support and assist the driver in performing driving tasks,” as cited by NHTSA. Autopilot isn’t autonomous driving technology, but new numbers suggest people are treating it as such, sometimes resulting in tragedy.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently stated in an interview with the Associated Press that he believes the name is misleading. “I don’t think something should be called, for example, Autopilot, when the fine print says you have to keep your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times,” he said.
The last time NHTSA released information about deaths connected to Autopilot, in June 2022, it tied only three deaths to the technology. Less than a year later, the latest figures show 17 deaths, with 11 of them occurring since May 2022. Postal noted that the increase in the number of accidents occurred alongside the rapid expansion of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” software from around 12,000 vehicles to nearly 400,000 within a year. The upgrade was reported in Tesla’s 2022 Quarterly Update, where it called the launch a “significant milestone for our company” and stated, “Every customer in the US and Canada can now access the FSD Beta functionality after purchase/subscription and start experiencing the evolution of autonomy powered by AI.”
830,000 Tesla under Investigation
NHTSA has collected detailed data on crashes involving driver assistance technology since 2021. Almost all of the 807 automation-related crashes in this data set involved Tesla vehicles. Subaru took second place with 23. The Postal found that four of the 17 Tesla-related deaths involved motorcycles, and one involved an emergency vehicle.
In April 2021, NHTSA asked Tesla for information not only about Autopilot but also specific information “regarding recent accidents involving emergency service vehicles and incidents involving negligent drivers.”
Questions about Autopilot’s ability to see and respond to stopped emergency vehicles continue to be a concern, and on August 18, 2022, NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) told Tesla it had upgraded its investigation from Preliminary Evaluation to Engineering Analysis. The investigation into the 2014–2022 Tesla Model Y, Model X, Model S and Model 3 is still open and involves an estimated 830,000 vehicles.
“NHTSA has an active investigation into Tesla Autopilot, including Full Self-Driving,” spokeswoman Veronica Morales said Postal, declined to comment further on the ongoing investigation. “NHTSA reminds the public that all advanced driver assistance systems require a human driver to be in control and fully engaged in the driving task at all times. Accordingly, all state laws hold human drivers responsible for the operation of their vehicle.”
The Postal also interviewed experts who say the recent increase in Autopilot-related accidents may be due to changes made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, including removing radar sensors from the new Model 3 and Model Y vehicles in 2021 and from the Model S and Model X in 2022 Tesla and Elon Musk did not respond to post’s request for comment.
Sebastian Blanco has been writing about electric vehicles, hybrids and hydrogen cars since 2006. His articles and car reviews have appeared in New York Times, Automotive News, Reuters, SAE, Autoblog, InsideEVs, Trucks.com, Car Talk and other outlets. His first green car media event was the launch of the Tesla Roadster, and since then he has been tracking the transition away from gasoline-powered vehicles and discovering the importance of the new technology not just for the auto industry, but for the world as a whole. . Throw in the recent shift to autonomous vehicles, and there are more exciting changes happening right now than most people can wrap their heads around. You can find him on Twitter or, on good days, behind the wheel of a new EV.