In Spite Of The Headlines, You Don't Need To Be Afraid Of Self-Driving Cars

The latest crash involved a Tesla Model X car, shown. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jonathan O`Callaghan 08 Jul 2016, 10:22

On average, more than 3,000 people die in car accidents around the world every day, with 94 percent being caused by human error. You would think, then, that the arrival of self-driving cars would be widely heralded.

Well, that’s not been the case. Just recently, we saw the first death caused by a semi-autonomous car. Joshua Brown in Florida was rumored to have been watching Harry Potter when his Tesla Model S hit a truck. Now another crash has emerged in Pennsylvania, with a Tesla Model X hitting a concrete median in the middle of a highway – but this time the driver, Albert Scaglione and his son-in-law, Tim Yanke, both survived. The incident was reported by the Detroit Free Press.

It should be noted that this latest accident has not yet been verified by Tesla, but was instead claimed to have happened by the driver. Tesla, for its part, said in a statement that their data indicated the autopilot feature had not been active at the time of the accident.

“We have no data to suggest that Autopilot was engaged at the time of the incident,” Tesla said to Gizmodo. “Anytime there is a significant accident, Tesla receives a crash detection alert. As is our practice with all collisions, we immediately reached out to the customer to make sure he was safe. Until the customer responds, we are unable to further investigate."

Dale Vukovich of the Pennsylvania State Police said that the car hit a guard rail at the side of the road, veering out of control into the median and rolling onto its roof.

These are obviously very tragic events. But, we should re-iterate, driverless cars are ultimately much safer than human drivers, albeit with a few ethical issues to iron out. There was always going to be a huge amount of media hype around any death caused by these vehicles (see this Fortune article, and the rebuttal by Tesla), but the fact remains that they are safer.

Brown’s crash, for example, is the first fatality in 210 million kilometers (130 million miles) driven on Tesla’s autopilot mode. The average for human drivers in the US is 160 million kilometers (100 million miles). Tesla is under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for the accident, but futurists among us will hope that it is labeled what it is – a freak accident, and not an argument against increasing the adoption of self-driving vehicles.

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