Self-driving vehicles

First Self-Driving Car Death

Tesla S car runs into a tractor trailer in Florida; still safer than human-driven cars


Tesla Motors

Almost two months after it happened, the Associated Press is reporting that a driver in Tesla S model car who was apparently riding it in "autopilot" mode was killed when his car crashed into a tractor trailer on a highway in Florida. The truck driver claims that the driver was "playing Harry Potter on the TV screen" at the time of the crash and driving so quickly that "he went so fast through my trailer I didn't see him." There are reasons to doubt that account, as Tesla Motors notes that it not possible to watch videos on the Model S touch screen. According to the AP, investigators believe that the car's cameras "failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a brightly lit sky and didn't automatically activate its brakes."

The current version of Tesla's Autopilot reminds drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and remain alert at all times. This is the first known death in over 130 million miles of Tesla Autopilot operation. For reference, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calculates that in the U.S. there are 1.08 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. As I reported in my Reason June feature article, "Will Politicians Block Our Driverlesss Future?," a Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study commissioned by Google estimated in January 2016 that human-driven vehicles crash 4.2 times per million miles traveled whereas current self-driving cars crash 3.2 times per million miles, a safety record that's likely to keep improving as robocars gain more real life experience on the roads.

Demanding that self-driving vehicles be perfect in comparison to human-driven vehicles is clearly not the right standard. Better is more than good enough.