So, let me get this straight. Tesla’s autopilot has logged millions of miles with not so much as a fender bender. This is the first.
Is it worth a NHTSA investigation? Certainly, as with any new technology from airbags to anti-lock brakes the first time there’s the potential for an unintended consequence it’s worthy of a proper investigation.
However, the news media is going apeshit over this. OMG, a self-driving car was in a fatal accident.
Two things to keep in mind. The first is that even if the car was being driven conventionally (like, with a driver) the same accident could have happened. Neither the driver nor the autopilot system could see the truck backlit by a white sky.
But the second is that this is the first fatality after 130 million miles. On average, automobiles in general go 60 million miles between fatalities.
So right there, even before we look into the cause, the autopilot was statistically safer, by over a factor of two. And even more importantly, now that the system has had an accident in a particular way, it’s possible to engineer the software so this exact accident can never happen again.
So not only is a Tesla on autopilot safer, it can only get even more safe as time goes on.
The point of self-driving cars is not that they will be perfect, just that they will be safer than human drivers.. and they are. Period, end of story.