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


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.


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]

Low on Gas? You Can Now Get It Delivered to You

If you live in a major city, there’s virtually nothing you can’t get delivered straight to your house. Forget groceries and takeout; you don’t even have to get yourself to the gas station anymore. As Lifehacker reports, there’s a service that will fill up your tank for you while your car is parked in your driveway.

Yoshi, an app-based service that brings car care to you, is currently available in more than 10 different cities across the U.S. It not only sells fuel-ups on demand, but also offers oil changes, car washes, repairs, tire checks, and other basics of car maintenance.

To fuel up, you plug in your car’s location on the Yoshi app and set up a delivery. Then, all you need to do is make sure that your car is in the right place and the door to the gas tank is open, and Yoshi will swoop in and fill ‘er up.

Yoshi sells its gas based on AAA price averages in your area, so the service isn’t as pricey as you might think, though you definitely do have to pay for the convenience. If you’re just looking to occasionally buy gas, Yoshi charges a $7 delivery fee. If you plan to use the service regularly, membership costs $20 a month and includes free fuel delivery every week.

The service is certainly a luxury, but if it’s difficult for you to get to a gas station regularly, that $7 delivery fee could be the difference between a smooth ride and running out of gas.

[h/t Lifehacker]

Why You Should Never Leave Bottles of Water in Your Hot Car

Leaving water bottles in your car during summer is a bad idea—and not just because chemicals from the plastic can leach into your water when it gets hot.

A plastic bottle of water can set your car seat on fire if sunlight hits it at just the right angle, according to House Beautiful. If you don't believe that, just ask Dioni Amuchastegui, a battery technician with the Idaho Power Company.

Amuchastegui was sitting in his truck during his lunch break when he saw some smoke out of the corner of his eye. He looked over “and noticed light was being refracted through a water bottle and was starting to catch the seat on fire,” Amuchastegui said in a Facebook video. He recorded the clip to warn others about the dangers of leaving plastic water bottles in hot cars.

He tested it again, and a thermometer held up to the bottle registered a temperature of 213°F. The Midwest City Fire Department in Oklahoma conducted its own test and concluded that the dangers are very real.

"Vinyl generally starts to burn at 455 degrees," David Richardson, of the fire department, tells CBS News. "It wouldn't take very long to start a fire if conditions were right—depends on how focused that beam of light is."

Many people already avoid drinking from bottles left in cars—especially in the winter—due to a widely held belief that freezing or reusing plastic bottles can cause carcinogenic compounds to be released into the water. As Snopes reports, some of these claims are merely urban legends, but there may be some truth to the claim that heat can cause harmful phthalates (environmental contaminants) to leach into the water. The fact-checking agency rated this claim "undetermined."

Regardless, the potential for kindling a fire should provide some incentive to clean out your car and remove any bottles that were tossed haphazardly into the backseat.

[h/t House Beautiful]


More from mental floss studios