The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) officially ended its investigation into a fatal Tesla wreck on Thursday, choosing to pursue no further action against the automaker. During the course of the investigation, though, evidence was produced that seemed to prove what autonomous driving proponents have been saying all along: Robots make better drivers than humans.
According to data released by Tesla during the investigation, its AI-powered semi-autonomous driver assistance feature, Autopilot, has lowered the number of crashes among its drivers by 40%. In its report, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) noted that, after Tesla's Autosteer feature was installed, the rate of crashes dropped from 1.3 crashes per million miles to 0.8 crashes per million miles. The report looked at 43,781 cars, including Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles from model years 2014-2016.
On May 7, 2016, a Tesla driver was killed in a wreck while the car was operating in Autopilot mode, which was the focus of the recent investigation. The questions centered around whether or not the Autopilot feature failed, and if Tesla was to blame.
Early responses to the crash were varied, but many called on Tesla to revoke the features as a safety measure. Additionally, confusion around terms like self-driving cars, and what is actually involved with the technology, continued to muddy the conversations, as TechRepublic's Hope Reese reported.
However, it seems that Tesla's name has, in part, been cleared. Bloomberg quoted NHTSA spokesman Bryan Thomas, who said "Tesla is not under any active investigation after today." And, as the NHTSA report stated: "NHTSA's examination did not identify any defects in design or performance of the AEB [Automatic Emergency Braking] or Autopilot systems of the subject vehicles nor any incidents in which the systems did not perform as designed."
It doesn't seem to be stopping there, either. In a tweet reply, Tesla CEO noted that the carmaker is targeting a 90% reduction in crashes as the Autopilot software continues to mature.
While the USDOT investigation has closed, another investigation of the same fatal accident by the National Transportation Safety Board is ongoing.
Tesla has long been one of the leading automobile manufacturers in the autonomous/self-driving car space, and the company announced back in October that every Tesla in production going forward would have the hardware necessary for autonomous capability. And, with multiple federal committees and partnerships popping up to support the technology, the next few years could see exponential growth in the space.
The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- The USDOT has officially ended its investigation into a fatal crash that involved a Tesla car operating in Autopilot mode, finding no fault in Tesla.
- During the investigation, data from Tesla showed that its Autopilot feature actually lowered crash rates by 40%.
- Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet that Tesla is targeting a 90% crash reduction as the software matures.
- Tesla driver dies in first fatality with Autopilot: What it means for the future of driverless cars (TechRepublic)
- Should autonomous vehicles protect individuals or the greater good? (ZDNet)
- Ford's fully-autonomous vehicles will start out in ride-share, says CEO Mark Fields (TechRepublic)
- Toyota Research Institute CEO: Automakers "not even close" to fully autonomous cars (ZDNet)
- Our autonomous future: How driverless cars will be the first robots we learn to trust (TechRepublic)
Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.