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Tesla's Autopilot Has Reduced Car Crashes, Government Agency Finds

Tesla
Tesla

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Tesla's Autopilot-enhanced vehicles crash 40 percent less often than cars without driver-assistance technology. The agency recently released a new report [PDF], spotted by IEEE Spectrum.

The report was conducted in response to a fatal accident in June 2016, when a tractor trailer crashed into a Tesla Model S on a Florida highway, killing the Tesla driver, who was using Autopilot at the time. The NHTSA then opened an investigation into the incident, which was the first fatality involving Autopilot.

Tesla’s Autopilot has sensors that can engage the car’s brakes when it detects an oncoming crash, even if the driver doesn’t react in time, as well as cruise control that takes the speed of other cars into account. (Autopilot also has automatic lane changing and automatic parking capabilities.) In this case, the Automatic Emergency Braking part of the system didn’t deploy or warn the driver before the collision. However, the report notes that the cars' automatic braking is only designed for rear-end collisions—which means it can't be blamed for a side collision. Those kind of crashes are beyond the scope of the system, according to the report, which means it wasn’t a question of the technology malfunctioning.

In the case of the fatal accident in Florida, the NHTSA report found that the Tesla driver was apparently distracted for at least seven seconds, and never tried to brake or steer away from the truck.

NHSTA

 
In fact, the report found that not only was Autopilot not to blame for the 2016 crash, its related Autosteer technology was actually responsible for a significant reduction in Tesla crashes. The Autosteer system can detect road markings and the presence of other vehicles to help drivers stay within their lane, but there's a catch: The driver is required to keep their hands on the wheel. If the sensors don’t detect hands on the wheel, the software warns the driver several times before turning the technology off.

Once Tesla debuted Autosteer, crash rates for its vehicles went down by almost 40 percent. For every million miles driven before Autosteer, there were 1.3 crashes where the Tesla’s airbags were deployed; after Autosteer, there were only 0.8.

All Tesla cars now come with the hardware necessary to drive fully autonomously, but the law still says drivers can’t let the car take the wheel entirely. In the meantime, while it's clear that Tesla could improve upon its current driver-assistance tech, the report shows that machines are capable of driving more safely than humans—in certain situations, at least.

[h/t IEEE Spectrum]

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Germany Wants to Fight Air Pollution With Free Public Transit
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images
Michael Gottschalk, AFP/Getty Images

Getting people out of their cars is an essential part of combating climate change. By one estimate, getting people to ditch their two-car household for just one car and a public transit commute could save up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions [PDF]. But how do you convince commuters to take the train or the bus? In Germany, the answer may be making all public transit free, according to The Local.

According to a letter from three of Germany's government ministers to the European Union Environment Commissioner, in 2018, Germany will test free public transit in five western German cities, including Bonn. Germany has failed to meet EU air pollution limits for several years, and has been warned that it could face heavy fines if the country doesn't clean up its air. In a report from 2017, the European Environment Agency estimated that 80,767 premature deaths in Germany in 2014 were due to air pollution.

City officials in the regions where free transport will be tested say there may be some difficulty getting ahold of enough electric buses to support the increase in ridership, though, and their systems will likely need more trains and bus lines to make the plan work.

Germany isn't the first to test out free public transportation, though it may be the first to do it on a nation-wide level. The Estonian capital of Tallinn tried in 2013, with less-than-stellar results. Ridership didn't surge as high as expected—one study found that the elimination of fares only resulted in a 1.2 percent increase in demand for service. And that doesn't necessarily mean that those new riders were jumping out of their cars, since those who would otherwise bike or walk might take the opportunity to hop on the bus more often if they don't have to load a transit card.

Transportation isn't prohibitively expensive in Germany, and Germans already ride public transit at much higher rates than people do in the U.S. In Berlin, it costs about $4 a ride—more expensive than a ride in Paris or Madrid but about what you'd pay in Geneva, and cheaper than the lowest fare in London. And there are already discounts for kids, students, and the elderly. While that doesn't necessarily mean making public transit free isn't worth it, it does mean that eliminating fares might not make the huge dent in car emissions that the government hopes it will.

What could bring in more riders? Improving existing service. According to research on transportation ridership, doing things like improving waits and transfer times bring in far more new riders than reducing fares. As one study puts it, "This seldom happens, however, since transport managers often cannot resist the idea of reducing passenger fares even though the practice is known to have less impact on ridership."

The same study notes that increasing the prices of other modes of transit (say, making road tolls and parking fees higher to make driving the more expensive choice) is a more effective way of forcing people out of their cars and onto trains and buses. But that tends to be more unpopular than just giving people free bus passes.

[h/t The Local]

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Here's How Much Traffic Congestion Costs the World's Biggest Cities
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iStock

Traffic congestion isn't just a nuisance for the people who get trapped in gridlock on their way to work, it’s also a problem for a city's economy, City Lab reports. According to a study from the transportation consulting firm INRIX, all that time stuck in traffic can cost the world’s major cities tens of billions of dollars each year.

The study, the largest to examine vehicle traffic on a global scale, measured congestion in 1360 cities across 38 countries. Los Angeles ranked number one internationally with drivers spending an average of 102 hours in traffic jams during peak times in a year. Moscow and New York City were close behind, both with 91 lost hours, followed by Sao Paulo in Brazil with 86 and San Francisco with 79.

INRIX also calculated the total cost to the cities based on their congestion numbers. While Los Angeles loses a whopping $19.2 billion a year to time wasted on the road, New York City takes the biggest hit. Traffic accounts for $33.7 billion lost by the city annually, or an average of $2982 per driver. The cost is $10.6 billion a year for San Francisco and $7.1 billion for Atlanta. Those figures are based on factors like the loss of productivity from workers stuck in their cars, higher road transportation costs, and the fuel burned by vehicles going nowhere.

Congestion on the highway can be caused by something as dramatic as a car crash or as minor as a nervous driver tapping their brakes too often. Driverless cars could eventually fix this problem, but until then, the fastest solution may be to discourage people from getting behind the wheel in the first place.

[h/t City Lab]

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