Tesla Autopilot safer than a human driver?

October 15, 2018 | 01:47
Tesla Autopilot safer than a human driver?
Tesla Autopilot safer than a human driver?
When it comes to AI capabilities in comparison to human performance, it seems that us humble bipeds lag further behind with each AI upgrade. Now, according to a statement released by Tesla last Friday, it turns out that Autopilot built into Tesla's electric cars is (statistically) safer than a human driver. Really?

In its first quarterly report on the safety of autonomous cars, according to data collected from Tesla drivers, only one accident occurred for every 3.34 million miles travelled when the autopilot was engaged. This compares to every 1.92 million miles when the autopilot was disengaged. The Tesla report also stated that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), on average an accident occurs about once every 490,000 miles travelled in the US.

The Tesla figures are really impressive and should help soothe public disquiet over the fatalities which have occurred with Tesla's cars, while driving with the Autopilot engaged. In response to a less tragic event Tesla's CEO Elon Musk tweeted “It’s super messed up that a Tesla crash resulting in a broken ankle is front page news and the ~40,000 people who died in U.S. auto accidents alone in past year get almost no coverage”.

The majority of car-industry watchers agree that autopilots will be a standard fit to vehicles in the not too distant future. Their use can help alleviate traffic congestion by using networked information from other connected-vehicles to offer an ‘intelligent driving mode’ and also drive more safely than a manually-steered vehicle. But can Tesla’s statistics cited in this report be used to support this? Are we there yet?

Hardly. The final version of Tesla Autopilot (able to control the vehicle in all driving conditions) has yet to be released. In its current state Autopilot can only provide autonomous control under certain conditions such as highway and motorway driving. It’s not able to cope with city traffic and other, more complex situations. It follows that we cannot know yet whether an autonomous vehicle will be just as safe when driven on all roads and conditions so any generalized projections based on these most recent statistics released by Tesla will inevitably give a biased result.

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