Group of self-driving cars

Almost 400 automated vehicle crashes reported in the USA in the last year

Image credit: Dreamstime

Automakers reported nearly 400 crashes involving vehicles with partially automated driver-assist systems, according to US regulators.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has revealed that carmakers reported nearly 400 crashes involving automated vehicles in the last 11 months. Tesla alone reported 273 crashes. 

The regulator asked manufacturers to report crashes involving these cars from July 2021 through to 15 May this year, with the goal of examining the status of the technology in detail for the first time.

After publishing the findings, the authority cautioned against using the numbers to compare automakers, saying it didn't weigh them by the number of vehicles from each manufacturer that uses the systems, or how many miles those vehicles travelled.

"As we gather more data, NHTSA will be able to better identify any emerging risks or trends and learn more about how these technologies are performing in the real world," said Steven Cliff, the agency's administrator.

The report has been published less than a week after the regulator announced it was upgrading its preliminary evaluation of Tesla’s Autopilot system to an engineering analysis, a more intensive level of scrutiny that is required before a recall can be ordered. In May 2022, it was revealed that a 2022 Tesla Model S was operating in Autopilot during a crash that killed three people, among other instances of deadly crashes involving the system. 

The NHTSA findings showed that Tesla cars were involved in nearly 70 per cent of the automated car crashes, being present in 270 of the 394 accidents analysed. The company currently has about 830,000 vehicles with the system 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 US roads with such systems. Subaru was next with 10, and all other manufacturers reported five or fewer. Overall, six people were killed in the crashes involving driver-assist systems, and five were seriously hurt, according to the report.

"These data will also help us identify crashes that we want to investigate and provide more information about how people in other vehicles interact with the vehicles,” Cliff said.

The high number of crashes involving Tesla's cars could be explained due to the use of telematics to monitor its vehicles, which provides more detailed information regarding small crashes that other automakers might not be able to identify or report, NHTSA said. Despite the systems being named Autopilot and "Full Self-Driving," the vehicles cannot drive themselves at the moment, and so drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.

The findings seemingly confirm the concerns of safety advocates, who have called for NHTSA to set minimum performance standards for automated vehicles.

"It's clear that US road users are unwitting participants in beta testing of automated driving technology," said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Honda said it has packaged the systems to sell more of them, which could influence its numbers. "The population of vehicles that theoretically could be involved in a reportable event is much greater than the population of vehicles built by automakers with a less-aggressive deployment strategy," the company said.

Additionally, reports to NHTSA are based on unverified customer statements about whether automated systems were running at the time of a crash. According to Honda, those crashes may not qualify for reporting to NHTSA after more data is gathered.

In light of the findings, the agency is currently assessing how the systems perform and whether new regulations may be needed. It is also continuing with the investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system, which could lead to a recall of 830,000 cars.

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