Tesla on Thursday released bare bones data about crashes involving what it calls “Autopilot” driver-assistance features that don’t come close to helping answer the ultimate question: Does Autopilot’s controversial automated steering feature cause drivers to drop their guard more often than they would if they were firmly holding the wheel?
What Tesla said: In the third quarter, it saw one “accident or crash-like event” for every 3.34 million miles driven while Autopilot was “engaged.” Without Autopilot in use, Tesla said it its drivers experienced one collision every 1.92 million miles on the road. It noted that for all vehicles, there is a crash every 492,000 miles driven, according to regulators.
The problem is, Autopilot is used primarily on highways, so of course there are more crashes when it is turned off. Most crashes occur on city streets, which are more complex. Also, Autopilot, which is used by at least tens of thousands of drivers, also includes adaptive cruise control, in which a person’s hands stay on the wheel, as opposed to the automated steering function. So the data it disclosed don’t isolate the most potentially problematic feature.