Nearly 400 crashes of automated tech vehicles reported, most involving Teslas
Tesla reported 273 crashes involving partially automated driving systems from last July through May 15, according to new federal safety data. Officials said comparing automakers’ results, though, isn’t possible.
DETROIT — Automakers reported nearly 400 crashes over a 10-month period involving vehicles with partially automated driver-assist systems, including 273 with Teslas, according to new statistics from U.S. safety regulators.
But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cautioned against using the numbers to compare automakers, saying it didn’t weight them by the number of vehicles from each manufacturer that use the systems or how many miles those vehicles traveled.
Automakers reported crashes from July 2021 through May 15 under an order from the agency, which is taking its first board look at such crashes.
Tesla’s crashes happened while vehicles were using Autopilot, “Full Self-Driving,” Traffic Aware Cruise Control or other driver-assist systems that have some control over speed and steering. The company has about 830,000 vehicles with the systems on the road.
The next closest of a dozen automakers that reported crashes was Honda, with 90. Honda says it has about six million vehicles on U.S. roads with such systems. Subaru was next with 10. All other automakers reported five or fewer.
In a June 2021 order, NHTSA told more than 100 automakers and automated vehicle tech companies to report serious crashes within one day of learning about them and to disclose less-serious crashes by the 15th day of the following month. The agency is assessing how the systems perform and whether new regulations are needed.
Six people were killed in the crashes involving driver-assist systems and five seriously hurt, NHTSA said. Of the deaths, five occurred in Teslas. One was reported by Ford. Three of the serious injuries were in Teslas. Honda and Ford each reported one.
Tesla’s crash number might appear elevated somewhat because it uses telematics to monitor its vehicles and get real-time crash reports. Other automakers don’t have such capability, so their reports might come slower or crashes might not get reported at all, according to NHTSA.
Tesla representatives did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Tesla’s crashes accounted for nearly 70% of the 392 reported by the dozen automakers. Though the Austin, Texas, automaker calls its systems Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving,” it says the vehicles can’t drive themselves and that drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.
Auto safety advocates say driver-assist and self-driving systems have potential to save lives but not until NHTSA sets minimum performance standards and requires safety improvements to protect all road users.
“It’s clear that U.S. road users are unwitting participants in beta testing of automated driving technology,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said that, though NHTSA’s data has limitations, it’s not isolated evidence that Tesla has ignored regulations and putting the public in danger. There have been “a never-ending parade of reports” of Teslas on automated tech systems rolling through stop signs or braking for no reason, he said. NHTSA also is investigating Teslas that crash into parked emergency vehicles.
“As today’s data suggests, this contempt for auto safety laws has real-world consequences,” Markey said, urging NHTSA to take enforcement action.
Manufacturers weren’t required to report how many vehicles they have on the road that have the systems, nor did they have to report how far those vehicles traveled or when the systems are in use, NHTSA said. So, for now, those numbers aren’t quantifiable, an agency official said.
But NHTSA might seek such information later. Meantime, the new data enabled it to find out about crashes much faster than before. NHTSA has used the data to seek a recall, open investigations and provide information for existing inquiries, officials said.
One stumbling block: It’s difficult to find out how many drivers actually use the technology.
Honda noted that the reports to NHTSA were based on unverified customer statements about whether automated systems were running at the time of a crash.
NHTSA’s order also covered companies running fully autonomous vehicles, and 25 reported a total of 130 crashes. Google spinoff Waymo led with 62. Transdev Alternative Services had 34 and General Motors-controlled Cruise LLC 23.
Waymo, the autonomous vehicle unit of Alphabet Inc., said it has more than 700 autonomous vehicles in its fleet. It’s running a fully autonomous ride-hailing service in Arizona and testing one in California.
It said all of the crashes happened at low speeds, with air bags inflating in only two of them.
In 108 of the crashes involving fully autonomous vehicles, no injuries were reported, and there was just one serious injury. In most of the crashes, vehicles were struck from the rear.