Tesla's new semi-autonomous Autopilot feature has already saved a few YouTubers from spectacular crashes. But according to Elon Musk, those aren't the exception to the rule: Autopilot has decreased crashes by 50 per cent in a few months. Electrek spotted the comments that Musk made during a government-hosted conference in Norway last week:
The probability of having an accident is 50% lower if you have Autopilot on. Even with our first version. So we can see basically what's the average number of kilometers to an accident — accident defined by airbag deployment. Even with this early version, it's almost twice as good as a person.
There are some obvious problems with the data: not every accident involves deploying an airbag, plus the sample size is limited. It's also important to know exactly how Tesla gets that 50 per cent number: Autopilot is only supposed to be engaged on divided highways; if you're comparing easy highway driving in good conditions (when Autopilot is supposed to be used) to all other driving, including around town and in poor visibility, that's going to skew the numbers.
But whichever way you look at this, that 50 per cent figure is hugely impressive. It's even more so when you think about the Autopilot system we're talking about — this isn't one of Google's complicated self-driving cars. It's a first-generation system using a limited suite of sensors and more basic algorithms.
If that system can decrease crashes by half — heck, if it can decrease them by a quarter — that's huge. Thirty-two thousand people die on US roads every year, and more than double that are injured. Australia averages around 1200 deaths on the road per year.
Yes, there are a lot of caveats to Tesla's numbers, and a decrease in crashes won't necessarily see the same decrease in deaths. But all the signs still point to autonomous cars being a total game-changer — and that's without even thinking about all the extra hours of Netflix you'll be able to watch.