Late last month, Telsa announced there was a fatal crash in a Model S in May using the vehicle’s self-driving Autopilot system. Fortune followed up with a harsh article on Tesla, attacking their business practices and morals.
“To put things baldly, Tesla and Musk did not disclose the very material fact that a man had died while using an auto-pilot technology that Tesla had marketed vigorously as safe and important to its customers,” Carol Loomis wrote.
Tesla promptly countered this attack with a blog post, describing Fortune’s article as “fundamentally incorrect.” And we have to agree.
Looking at the facts, Tesla does not appear to be in the wrong. First of all, this is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated, notes Tesla; among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles. Contrasted against worldwide accident data, “customers using Autopilot are statistically safer than those not using it at all,” points out Tesla.
Moreover, Fortune boldly assumed the accident was caused by an Autopilot failure. Tesla insists this is not the case:
To be clear, this accident was the result of a semi-tractor trailer crossing both lanes of a divided highway in front of an oncoming car. Whether driven under manual or assisted mode, this presented a challenging and unexpected emergency braking scenario for the driver to respond to. There is no evidence to suggest that Autopilot was not operating as designed.
However, even if Tesla recovers from this tragedy, ramifications will unfortunately ripple beyond the company. For example, in Ontario—which has progressive laws for self-driving testing—has faced renewed scrutiny following Tesla’s news. Ontario’s program to allow testing of self-driving cars on public roads, which was already struggling to attract applications, now seems poised to drown in the debate about the safety of driverless cars.
According to the Department of Transportation, 94 percent of car accidents are caused by human error. Driverless cars could save a million lives annually around the world, suggests the Vanity Fair, which believes media has mishandled Tesla’s event.
It’s an emotional issue, which makes things complicated. But the data proves self-driving is already safer than human driving, and it’s only going to become safer. Tesla just has to convince the masses that the dangers on the road are not software and sensors, but themselves.