The Number Of Lives Autopilot Saves Will Make Self-Driving Cars Worth It

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You might hate the means, but you can’t hate the result.

Last week, Elon Musk gave a speech in Norway where he dropped an impressive number. According to the Tesla CEO, the Autopilot system featured on the Model X and Model S cuts the rate of accidents by 50%. We already knew that self-driving cars were safer than human drivers, potentially because of how slow they drive, but how exactly did Musk get this number? Well, with over 47 million miles of autopilot driving logged by Tesla owners, there is a decent amount of data to back up the 50% figure.

According to Musk, there is a 50% reduction in accidents (defined as events where the airbag is deployed) when autopilot is engaged versus when the system is off. Of course the data is skewed by a few factors. First, autopilot is likely to be engaged when driving conditions are optimal. At night and during bad weather, drivers feel that they can’t trust the system and take over. But when it’s clear skies and sunny days, it’s easier to kick back and let the computers do the work. Secondly, autopilot software is also supposed to be used only on divided highways where rates of accidents are lower than on dense city streets. Still, given the factors that skew the numbers in favor of human drivers, 50% is a significant number.

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More importantly is that these results should translate well over to full time autopilot engagement, which should come soon. Currently, 32,000 people die on American roads each year. If even one of these lives could be saved then the technology will be worth it. When considering that Tesla’s autopilot is only a beta version of the software, the figure becomes even more impressive. The full version of the software is supposed to come out within the next two years, but it’s unclear when regulations will become relaxed enough to allow for fully autonomous driving. Either way, if Musk can bring numbers like this to the discussion table with the government, there’s a good chance that we’ll see fully autonomous cars on streets before 2020.

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