And in the meantime, a second nonfatal Autopilot crash has occurred.
About a week ago, the tragic news of a fatal Tesla car accident was splashed across the media. The accident occurred while a Model S car was driving on Autopilot, and Tesla reports that the vehicle was on a divided highway when a tractor trailer drove across perpendicular to the Model S. Since neither the driver or the Autopilot noticed the tractor, the brake was not applied, resulting in the heartbreaking fatality.
Just yesterday (July 6), news of another Tesla Autopilot accident broke, but thankfully the consequences weren’t fatal this time around. According to the New York Times, the Tesla vehicle rolled over on the Pennsylvania Turnpike after hitting barriers on both sides of the highway. Now, being led by the nation’s top auto safety regulator, there’s an investigation underway.
What some find fishy about the fatal car accident is that the crash occurred in Florida back in early May, but the news didn’t break until a week ago. A journalist for Fortune, Carol Loomis, published an article claiming that Tesla privately informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the accident, but both companies sat on the news of the crash for about 8 weeks — a time during which Tesla sold over US$2 billion in stock in a public offering. Loomis hints that Tesla may have swept the news of the fatality under the rug until the investments were locked down.
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This allegation did not sit well with Elon Musk. The Tesla CEO took to Twitter to defend his company, furiously refuting the claims.
After the editor of Fortune posted a tweet claiming that the Tesla Autopilot death seems “pretty material” to him, Musk responded with:
@alansmurray If you care about auto deaths as material to stock prices, why no articles about 1M+/year deaths from other auto companies?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 5, 2016
Musk does drive a valid argument here. A life lost under any circumstance is tragic, and the Autopilot accident is no exception, but is the media being too quick to jump to decry self-driving cars as being unsafe?
In 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that one person dies for every 100 million miles driven in the US. In comparison, the Tesla accident in May was the first fatality in 130 million miles of driving on Autopilot, according to Tesla. Therefore, the odds of remaining safe on the road may actually be better in an autonomous vehicle than in those being driven by humans.
Aside from the statistics, Musk stresses an important point about the Autopilot feature on Twitter:
@disinformatico @Eddy_Jahn In other words, the intended implication is that a driver must remain alert, just as a pilot must remain alert.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 6, 2016
And as Tesla concludes in their official response to the Fortune article, “The bottom line is that Fortune jumped the gun on a story before they had the facts.”
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