The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released the first ever reports measuring car accidents involving driver-assistance technology.

The NHTSA provided firm numbers — 392 accidents involving vehicles with drivers; 130 accidents with driverless vehicles over a 10-month period.

The goal of these reports were to find answers on the technology’s safety, and to help the agency detect defects as it considers regulations, but instead added confusion as to, “Whether cars that are equipped with Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) technology are safer than those that are not, or do they make our roads more dangerous?”

Since 2016, Tesla vehicles have made headlines — involving 35 crashes, 9 in which resulted in 14 fatalities; Only three investigations concluded that Autopilot wasn’t to blame.

Driver-Assistance Technology: The 5 Levels

NHTSA is primarily interested in a driver-assistance category called SAE 2, which is one of five levels created by the Society of Automotive Engineers, which also includes Tesla’s Autopilot:

  • Level 1 systems — include a single feature like adaptive cruise control to assist drivers in maintaining safe distances behind cars.
  • Level 2 systems — takes full control of acceleration, braking, and steering; the driver must be behind the wheel, ready to intervene if the system isn’t responding properly.
  • Level 3 systems possess technology that can self-control the vehicle; the driver must be present to intervene if necessary.
  • Level 4 and 5 cars — require no humans for operation.

Humans & Machines: At the Intersection

We must determine how the interaction between human drivers and these automated systems is working; That’s why a lot of attention will be drawn on the Level 2 system vehicles until that day comes.

Many headlines following NHTSA’s reports suggest that promises of improved safety in vehicles using the new technology are doubtful; however, others contend that 392 recorded crashes are an admirable number when considering the approximate 6 million total crashes annually.

Some issues that arose from the report findings:

  • The NHTSA identified Tesla as the top offender, accounting for two-thirds of the SAE2 accidents. Tesla has approximately 830,000 of these cars, which is more than other automakers; the reports don’t say how many comparable vehicles from others are on the road.
  • The reporting requirements aren’t not firm; Tesla has automatic reporting through vehicle telematics, while others rely on unverified customer claims.

All Eyes on Tesla

The NHTSA had reason to investigate a series of accidents involving Autopilot-enabled Teslas plowing into police cars, fire trucks, and other ER vehicles — in which resulted in 17 injuries and one death.

Other studies have also found troubling flaws in Teslas. Consumer Reports engineers found that Autopilot’s optional lane-change feature is dangerous, and that the system could be “tricked” into operating without anybody in the driver’s seat.

One of the biggest arguments about driver-assistance technology and safety is that these systems may create greater highway danger by lulling drivers into inattentiveness.

An MIT study concluded that drivers do pay less attention to the road when Tesla’s Autopilot is on. Safety experts argue that these drivers are unprepared to take action if the system malfunctions or a situation emerges that requires attention.

Tesla’s Response

Despite its name, Tesla tells drivers that the system isn’t “totally” autopilot,

“Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.”

However, Tesla’s advertising clearly includes the phrase, “Full Self Driving,” and has drawn the attention of lawmakers who think it dangerously promises prospective buyers a bit more.

The Road Ahead

When it comes to driver-assistance technology, there is a long way to go before we know how safe these systems are.

There’s no doubt that there will be more cases like one currently in Los Angeles involving a Tesla driver who ran through a red light on Autopilot, killing two people in a Honda. The driver, who faces manslaughter charges, blames Tesla and Autopilot.

During an upcoming trial, Tesla is sure to point to the disclaimer it gives to all purchasers: Autopilot requires fully attentive drivers.

What can we gather from this?

Driver-assistance technologies may provide enhanced safety, but drivers still have serious responsibilities.

If you have been injured in a driverless car accident, don’t hesitate to contact our Los Angeles personal injury attorneys.

You deserve total compensation for your damages and injuries; that’s why our dedicated car accident lawyers will help you fight the legal process while you focus on recovering.