Orlin Wagner / AP
Automakers have reported nearly 400 crashes of vehicles with partially automated driver assistance systems, including 273 involving Teslas, according to statistics released Wednesday by US safety regulators.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cautioned against using the numbers to compare automakers, saying it doesn’t weigh them by the number of vehicles from each manufacturer using the systems, or the miles those vehicles have driven.
Automakers reported accidents from July last year through May 15 under an order from the agency, which is studying such accidents on a large scale for the first time.
“As we collect more data, NHTSA will be able to better identify any emerging risks or trends and learn more about how these technologies perform in the real world,” said Stephen Cliff, director of the agency.
Tesla accidents occurred while the vehicles were using autopilot, “full autonomous driving”, traffic-aware cruise control, or other driver assistance systems that had some cruise control and steering. The company owns about 830,000 vehicles with on-road systems.
Honda was the closest of dozens of automakers to report crashes, with 90. Honda says it has about six million vehicles on US roads with such systems. Subaru was next with 10, and all other automakers reported five or fewer.
In a request issued in June 2021, the NHTSA required more than 100 automakers and robotic car technology companies to report serious accidents within one day of being identified and to detect less severe accidents by the 15th day of the following month. The agency is evaluating how the regulations are performing and whether new regulations are needed.
The NHTSA also said that five people were killed in collisions involving driver assistance systems, and six were seriously injured.
Tesla’s crash number could also be high because it uses information technologies to monitor its vehicles and get real-time crash reports. The NHTSA said other automakers don’t have such a capability, so their reports may come slower or crashes may not be reported at all. I left a message asking for feedback from Tesla.
Tesla accidents accounted for nearly 70% of the 392 reported by dozens of automakers. Although the Austin, Texas, automaker calls its systems autopilot and “fully self-driving,” it says vehicles cannot drive themselves and drivers must be prepared to intervene at all times.
Other data limits
The NHTSA said that manufacturers were not required to report how many vehicles they had on the road that had the systems, nor did they have to report the distance those vehicles had traveled, or when the systems were in use. An agency official said those figures are currently not quantifiable.
However, NHTSA may request this information later. In the meantime, the new data enabled it to detect malfunctions faster than before. The agency said it is currently using the fault data to look for trends and discuss them with companies.
Officials said the NHTSA has already used the data to research a subpoena, open investigations, and provide information for current inquiries. They also said that it is difficult to know how many drivers are actually using the technology.
“This will help our investigators quickly identify potential fault trends that could emerge,” Cliff said. “This data will also help us identify accidents we want to investigate and provide more information about how people in other vehicles interact with vehicles.”
Honda said it has packed the systems to sell more of them, which could affect its numbers. “The number of vehicles that could theoretically participate in a reported event is far greater than the number of vehicles made by automakers with a less aggressive deployment strategy,” the company said.
Also, reports submitted to NHTSA are based on unverified customer data about whether automated systems were operating at the time of a failure. Honda said those incidents may not be eligible to be reported to the NHTSA after more data is collected.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents most automakers, said the data collected by NHTSA is not enough by itself to assess the safety of automated vehicle systems.
Fully self-driving vehicles: 130 accidents, not serious
The NHTSA order also covered companies operating fully self-driving vehicles, and 25 reported a total of 130 accidents. Google spinoff Waymo topped 62, followed by Transdev Alternative Services with 34, and GM-controlled Cruise LLC with 23.
Waymo, the autonomous vehicle unit of Alphabet Inc. It said it has more than 700 self-driving vehicles in its fleet. The company operates a fully autonomous car service in Arizona and is testing one in California. The company said all crashes occurred at low speeds, with airbags inflating in only two of them.
In 108 of the accidents involving self-driving vehicles, no injuries were reported, and there was only one serious injury. In most accidents, vehicles are collided from behind.