So, we have bad news, good news, bad news, and worse news.
Bad news: late last week, another Tesla Model S crashed while Autopilot was (allegedly) engaged.
Good news: the driver wasn’t seriously hurt, even though the car was traveling 60 mph when it rear-ended a fire truck.
Bad news: the internet won’t stop shouting about the looming autonomous car apocalypse.
Worse news: Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk isn’t helping matters by making iffy claims about Autopilot safety. Mashable reports:
This week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk doubled (tripled? quadrupled?) down on the safety of Tesla’s Autopilot feature — a semi-automated driver assistance mode Tesla introduced to its cars in 2014 and now comes with every vehicle. The stat Musk and the company repeated (and will continue to repeat) about Autopilot reducing crash rates by 40 percent came under some scrutiny earlier this month. Wired found that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration-backed stat is likely based on flawed, unreliable data.
According to NHTSA, there was an automotive fatality every 86M miles in 2017 (~40,000 deaths). Tesla was every 320M miles. It’s not possible to be zero, but probability of fatality is much lower in a Tesla. We will be reporting updated safety numbers after each quarter.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 14, 2018
I mean, yes, we get it: Autopilot, like all driver-assist features, can make cars safer and reduce roadway collisions. And yes, most of us understand that Autopilot isn’t a fully-autonomous system and that it requires drivers to remain alert with their hands on the wheel. So if the driver truly was on her phone, not paying attention to traffic…well, we’re not lawyers, but we’ve watched enough Judge Judy to know how that would go down in court.
The question really is: how much of an appetite do Americans have for accidents in self-driving cars? Or, put more optimistically: how long until we stop freaking the hell out about every crash and fender-bender in autonomous vehicles and accept the fact that they can run circles around our puny human driving skills?