Technology meant to keep occupants safe and ease the burden of driving has been linked to a total of 392 crashes since July 2021, according to data newly released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The federal safety agency asked manufacturers to report crashes known to involve “Level 2” advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS. This includes semi-autonomous technology such as Tesla’s Autopilot, which was linked to 273 of the crashes. But the list also included systems such as GM’s hands-free Super Cruise, as well as less sophisticated technologies motorists can activate to do things like centering a vehicle in its lane.
Ninety-eight of the crashes resulted in 11 injuries or fatalities where an injury was reported.
Data inconclusive as concerns grow
“By providing NHTSA with critical and timely safety data this will help our investigators quickly identify potential defect trends,” Administrator Steven Cliff told reporters.
Cliff cautioned the numbers are “inadequate to draw conclusions.” But it is clear NHTSA is taking a closer look at ADAS technology, particularly the most advanced systems that can, in some situations, permit drivers to take their hands off the wheel.
Tesla reported the largest number of crashes, according to the report, 273 of the 392 overall. That’s no surprise considering the widespread use of the automaker’s Autopilot system.
The EV maker has come under increasing scrutiny, among other things, accused of misleading customers about the capabilities of its systems. It recently responded to some of the concerns by adding a sensor system that can recognize when motorists using Autopilot or Full Self-Driving are not paying attention to the road.
But Tesla could face a more serious challenge if NHTSA finds additional safety concerns. A week ago it announced it is upgrading an investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot. That falls just a step short of ordering a recall under the agency’s procedures.
The investigation was triggered by a dozen crashes that occurred when Tesla vehicles using Autopilot struck stationary emergency vehicles.
NHTSA has launched 35 additional investigations into Tesla’s technologies following reports of crashes resulting in 14 fatalities. In May, three were killed during a crash in California.
Tesla isn’t alone
Both NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have already faulted Tesla in several fatal crashes — though motorists have been blamed, at least partially, in some of the incidents.
Tesla isn’t the only automaker reporting ADAS-related crashes to NHTSA. Honda reported 90 Level 2 ADAS crashes to the agency. In the Level 3-5 ADAS results, Waymo, the self-driving car subsidiary of Alphabet, was involved in 62, and GM’s Cruise reported 23 crashes.
Waymo, Cruise and others developing self-driving vehicles have been involved in a number of generally minor crashes where other motorists rear-end their vehicles. The problem appears to be that the automated models strictly obey laws, for example, stopping at a light rather than racing through when the stop light turns yellow.
Tracking data can be difficult
NHTSA noted the 392 crashes it listed in the new report may not be the complete total. Some vehicles use over-the-air technology capable of automatically reporting an incident to the manufacturer. That includes those using Autopilot and Super Cruise. But other crashes may not be noted unless consumers report them to the manufacturer.
ADAS technology is offered in varying levels. At the most basic, it can be used to warn drivers of a vehicle in their blind spot, or alert a motorist to brake to prevent a frontal collision. More advanced systems can center a vehicle in their lane or even permit hands-free operation under limited circumstances.
Advocates content ADAS will eventually reduce the number of crashes on the highway, but skeptics fear the technology is, at least for now, lulling motorists into a false sense of security.