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Tesla Autopilot fiasco: How many fatalities and crashes have been reported?

Analysis of NHTSA data finds Tesla’s driver assistance system Autopilot has been involved in far more accidents and deaths than previously reported.

Accidents involving Tesla Autopilot spike
Lucas JacksonREUTERS

Tesla introduced Autopilot, a driver-assistance system, in 2014 with limited capabilities. But over the ensuing years its capabilities and functionality have been enhanced and over 800,000 Tesla cars on US roads are equipped with at least the standard version of the system. Drivers can purchase more advanced forms at a price.

The technology is classified as an SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assist system, which means that the drivers are required to keep their hands on the steering wheel and eyes on the road at all times. However, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analyzed by the Washington Post suggests that many drivers are taking the name of the system literally, resulting in tragedy.

Tesla Autopilot fiasco: How many fatalities and crashes have been reported?

The newspaper’s findings show that there has been a major increase in the number of accidents and fatalities associated with the driver-assistance systems employed in Teslas, much higher than previously reported. According to NHTSA data, since 2019, Tesla’s Autopilot software has been involved in a total of 736 crashes and 17 fatalities. That is almost three times the number of crashes reported in June last year.

Almost two thirds of accidents reported to the agency by Tesla occurred in the past year. That coincided with the rollout of the electric vehicle maker’s experimental “Full Self-Driving” feature in November to anyone who had paid for it.

What is behind the increase in Tesla Autopilot crashes?

The number of cars equipped with the “Full Self-Driving” technology had been slowly increasing since 2020 as drivers reached a minimum safety threshold. From a small pool of around 12,000 to 160,000 in October last year according to the Verge. There are now almost 400,000 Tesla’s with Autopilot that have the “Full Self-Driving” feature.

The basic Autopilot is “designed to support and assist the driver in performing the driving task,” mainly meant for use on highways. The “Full Self-Driving” feature is supposed to be able to operate in far more complex environments following the rules of the road and avoiding collisions maneuvering the vehicle from point A to point B.

Exactly which version of Tesla’s driver-assistance software that was in use during the accidents that resulted in fatalities is not clear. The carmaker asked the NHTSA to not release that information on a business confidentiality basis the Washington Post reports.

However, the “Full Self-Driving” system has come under increased scrutiny from the transportation safety agency. The NHTSA asked Tesla to recall over 360,000 cars in February with the advanced feature installed after there were cases found of the system not adhering to traffic safety laws.


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