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Tesla Autopilot’s Safety Profile Fails to Withstand Scientific Scrutiny, May Be Increasing Traffic Deaths

Originally published on: CCN
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March 06, 2019

In a world increasingly turning to AI and automated solutions for answers, Tesla’s self-driving cars were seen as groundbreaking. The technology is certainly promising.

However, an independent investigative report has debunked alleged findings by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which gave Tesla the all-clear after a crash involving a self-driving car.

The report has found that Tesla’s autopilot is not only dangerous but may actually have increased the number of accidents since deployment. The data used from the initial, now-debunked report was sealed and obtained via lawsuit.

Killer Cars: Revisiting Fatal Tesla Accidents

The first fatal self-driving Tesla accident occurred in 2016 when the car’s sensors failed to distinguish between a white trailer and the bright sky in the background, driving headlong into the trailer and killing the owner of the Tesla. This prompted the NHTSA to launch an investigation into Tesla vehicles which has now been debunked as inaccurate.

Since the launch of the investigation, more self-driving car fatalities have taken place, with a March 2018 accident claiming the life of a female passenger in a Tesla Uber vehicle in Silicon Valley. An investigation by Quality Control Systems Corp. (QSC) revealed that the autopilot accelerated the car before the crash. These findings have led to major concerns surrounding the safety of Tesla’s self-driving technology.

A fatal Tesla crash resulted in a breached battery, engulfing the car in flames and killing the passenger. Tesla shifted blame onto the highway conditions and, inexplicably, the deceased passenger himself. The car company’s actions resulted in it being kicked off of the investigation. Tesla then lied about it, stating that it had left voluntarily. This was proven to be untrue.

Two more deadly Tesla crashes took place in Florida last week.

NHTSA Report Proven Wrong

In January 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made a bold claim. The organization stated that the airbag deployment crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent in Tesla vehicles using the patented Autopilot Technology Package in conjunction with the Autosteer component. Essentially, the claim was that self-driving cars saw a greatly reduced accident rate. This claim is now being hotly disputed.

Tesla NHTSA

The Department of Transportation agency’s claim about the safety of Tesla’s autopilot has come under dispute | Source: Original NHTSA Report, acquired by Quality Control Systems Corp

Marlyand, USA-based QSC has found that the initial investigation was flawed and inaccurate.

“Our replication of NHTSA’s analysis of the underlying data shows that the Agency’s conclusion is not well-founded.”

Quality Control Systems Corp filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the US Department of Transportation. This gave the firm access to once-secret data used during the study completed by the NHTSA.

“We discovered that the actual mileage at the time the Autosteer system was installed appears to have been reported for fewer than half the vehicles NHTSA studied. For those vehicles that do have apparently exact measurements of exposure mileage both before and after the system’s installation, the change in crash rates associated with Autosteer is the opposite of that claimed by NHTSA – if these data are to be believed.”

The quality control firm clarified that the originally reported “reduction” in crash rates was based on bad data. Using the correct data, the NHSTA’s method of investigation actually shows that Tesla’s autopilot has increased the number of car crashes, according to QSC.

The firm criticized the difficult processes that must be overcome to gain access to the data, adding that an open, transparent surveillance system is required to monitor the casualties of self-driving systems.

“Our work illustrates risks posed by spending taxpayer dollars on anti-scientific efforts to prevent the replication of research done by government agencies at taxpayer expense.”

Tesla’s Response

A Tesla spokesperson responded to the news, speaking to news outlet Jalopnik in an attempt to discredit the company’s findings.

“QCS analysis dismissed the data from all but 5,714 vehicles of the total 43,781 vehicles in the data set we provided to NHTSA back in 2016.

Given the dramatic increase in the number of Tesla vehicles on the road, their analysis today represents about 0.5 [percent] of the total mileage that Tesla vehicles have traveled to date, and about 1 [percent] of the total mileage that Tesla vehicles have traveled to date with Autopilot engaged.”

Tesla on The Ropes

The past few months have been trying for Tesla, with more several thousand more layoffs on the way and many observers criticizing the actions taken by CEO Elon Musk as erratic and unstable. Musk was indicted on criminal securities fraud charges after misleading investors. He falsely claimed that funding had been secured to allow the company to go public, making the infamous “funding secured” tweet.

Musk has been obliged by court order to have all social media posts and announcements screened and approved by authorities. The court order stated that this was to prevent the dissemination of false information.

The CEO recently broke the terms of the court order, CCN reported. He posted a tweet displaying inflated sales projections for the company, which he was then forced to admit were mistaken. Musk’s latest misstep resulted in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission calling for him to be held in contempt of court. The consequences of his most recent actions are yet to be seen.

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