18 June 2022

A Natural Result of the "Move Fast and Break Things" Ethos

It is a given that there will be failures in various software driven driver assistance technologies, but Tesla's record is particularly egregious, accounting for 70% of all crashes.

This is not a surprise, and I would argue that it is confluence of primarily 5 issues:

  1. A poorly designed system which relies too heavily on artificial vision systems and eschews more mature technologies like LIDAR and Radar.
  2. Poor human-machine interface design.
  3. Lack of restrictions on when it should be used.
  4. The system is designed to allow operations well outside the parameters for which it has been designed.
  5. The system's capabilities have been consistently misrepresented to Tesla customers, who then use the system in unsafe ways as a result.

The result is dead people.  LOTS of dead people:

On Wednesday morning, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data on the safety, or lack thereof, of advanced driver assistance systems. Since June 2021, automakers have been required to inform NHTSA if any of their vehicles crash while using partially automated driving systems, also known as SAE level 2 systems.

As many suspected, Tesla's Autopilot system accounted for the majority of crashes since the reporting period began. In fact, Teslas represented three-quarters of all ADAS crashes—273 out of 367 crashes reported between July 2021 and May 15, 2022. The news provides yet more data undermining Tesla's safety claims about its Autopilot system.

In the past, Tesla and even NHTSA have claimed that Autopilot reduced crash rates by 40 percent. However, as we reported in 2018, that claim fell apart once a consulting company called Quality Control Systems got its hands on the data.

Autopilot's woes did not end there, however, and a string of Tesla Autopilot crashes eventually spurred NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation into action. In August 2021, NHTSA's ODI opened a probe into 11 crashes in which Teslas using Autopilot crashed into first responder vehicles and upgraded that probe to a much more comprehensive Engineering Analysis earlier this June. This is in addition to a separate NHTSA investigation into the propensity of newer Teslas—which lack forward-looking radar—to spontaneously brake. The investigation began in February.

Tesla's Autopilot system has also been repeatedly singled out by the National Transportation Safety Board, which even blasted NHTSA for failing "to recognize the importance of ensuring that acceptable safeguards are in place so the vehicles do not operate outside of their operational design domains and beyond the capabilities of their system designs."

A note here.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is charged with investigating accidents and determining their causes, and not with regulation, while the NHTSA can actually draft regulations.

Note that the number is not normalized, so we do not have per car or per mile numbers, but given that Honda, which is number 2 on the list, has nearly 5 million cars on the road with its driver assist technologies, and Tesla has about 1 million cars on the US, something is very wrong.


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