Technology intended to keep occupants safe and ease the burden of driving has been linked to a total of 392 crashes since July 2021, according to data recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Federal Safety Agency has asked automakers to report crashes known to involve “Level 2” advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. This includes semi-autonomous technology such as Tesla’s Autopilot, which has been linked to 273 of the crashes. But the list also included systems like GM’s hands-free Super Cruise, as well as less sophisticated technologies that motorists can activate to do things like center a vehicle in its lane.
Ninety-eight of the crashes resulted in 11 injured or killed when an injury was reported.
Inconclusive data as concerns grow
“By providing NHTSA with critical and timely safety data, it will help our investigators quickly identify potential defect trends,” Administrator Steven Cliff told reporters.
Cliff warned that the numbers are “insufficient to draw conclusions”. But it’s clear NHTSA takes a closer look at ADAS technologyin particular the most advanced systems which can, in certain situations, allow the driver to let go of the steering wheel.
Tesla reported the most accidents, according to the report, 273 out of 392 in total. That’s not surprising given the widespread use of the automaker’s Autopilot system.
The electric vehicle maker is coming under increasing scrutiny, among other things, accused of misleading customers about the capabilities of its systems. It recently addressed some of the concerns by adding a sensor system that can recognize when motorists using Autopilot or full autonomous driving aren’t paying attention to the road.
But Tesla could face a more serious challenge if NHTSA finds additional safety concerns. A week ago it announced it was upgrading a survey of 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot. This is only one step before ordering a recall according to agency procedures.
The investigation was prompted by a dozen crashes that occurred when Tesla vehicles using Autopilot hit stationary emergency vehicles.
NHTSA has launched 35 additional investigations into Tesla’s technologies following reports of crashes that killed 14 people. In May, three were killed in an accident in California.
Tesla is not alone
NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have already blamed Tesla in several fatal crashes — although motorists have been blamed, at least partially, in some of the incidents.
Tesla isn’t the only automaker to report ADAS-related crashes to NHTSA. Honda has reported 90 Level 2 ADAS crashes to the agency. In the ADAS Level 3-5 Results, WaymoAlphabet’s self-driving car subsidiary was involved in 62 crashes, and GM’s Cruise reported 23 crashes.
Waymo, Cruise and others developing self-driving vehicles have been involved in a number of mostly minor crashes where other motorists put their vehicles in the back. The problem seems to be that the automated models strictly obey the laws, for example, stopping at a light rather than running when the stop light turns yellow.
Data tracking can be difficult
NHTSA noted that the 392 crashes listed in the new report may not be the full total. Some vehicles use over-the-air technology that can automatically report an incident to the manufacturer. This includes those using Autopilot and Super Cruise. But other accidents may not be noted unless consumers report them to the manufacturer.
ADAS technology is offered at different levels. Basically, it can be used to warn drivers of a vehicle in their blind spot or warn a motorist to brake to avoid a frontal collision. More advanced systems can center a vehicle in their lane or even allow hands-free operation in limited circumstances.
ADAS content advocates will eventually reduce highway crashes, but skeptics fear the technology will, at least for now, give motorists a false sense of security.