In the wake of a March 23 accident in Mountain View, Calif., that killed the driver of a Tesla Model X SUV, the automaker is defending the safety record of its Autopilot system.
“Our data shows that Tesla owners have driven this same stretch of highway [in Mountain View] with Autopilot engaged roughly 85,000 times since Autopilot was first rolled out in 2015 and roughly 20,000 times since just the beginning of the year, and there has never been an accident that we know of,” Tesla says in a blog post, adding that there are more than 200 successful Autopilot trips per day on the same stretch of highway.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the fatal accident, says it’s unclear if Tesla’s Autopilot system was engaged at the time of the crash. Tesla says it hasn’t been able to retrieve the vehicle’s logs because of “the extensive damage caused by the collision.”
Tesla, in its blog post, cites the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s 2017 finding that crash rates were 40 percent lower for Tesla vehicles that have the Autopilot technology.
“Since then, Autopilot has improved further,” Tesla says. “That does not mean that it perfectly prevents all accidents – such a standard would be impossible – it simply makes them less likely to occur.”
Tesla attributes the severity of the March 23 crash to the fact that a highway safety barrier “had either been removed or crushed in a prior accident without being replaced.”
The automaker also asserts that that the vehicle’s battery pack performed as it was designed.
“Tesla battery packs are designed so that in the rare circumstance a fire occurs, it spreads slowly so that occupants have plenty of time to get out of the car,” Tesla says. “According to witnesses, that appears to be what happened here, as we understand there were no occupants still in the Model X by the time the fire could have presented a risk. Serious crashes like this can result in fire regardless of the type of car, and Tesla’s billions of miles of actual driving data shows that a gas car in the United States is five times more likely to experience a fire than a Tesla vehicle.”
All Tesla vehicles “have the hardware needed for full self-driving capability at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver,” the automaker says on its website. It also claims that the Model X “is the safest SUV ever.”