Elon Musk argues "perfect is the enemy of good" and Tesla's cars are four times safer than average, despite the few attention-grabbing Autopilot accidents.
The Tesla Model S that recently smashed into the back of a fire department truck in Utah was on Autopilot at the time of the crash, according to the driver's statement to police.
Tesla has not contradicted the claim, as sometimes occurs after the company reviews data logs from vehicles involved in accidents.
The 28-year-old driver also reportedly admitted to police that she had been looking down at her phone before the crash. She suffered only a broken ankle despite apparently slamming into the back of a truck at 60 mph.
What's actually amazing about this accident is that a Model S hit a fire truck at 60mph and the driver only broke an ankle. An impact at that speed usually results in severe injury or death.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 14, 2018
Following several fatal accidents involving activated Autopilot, Tesla has reaffirmed the company's warning that drivers must pay attention to the road and be able to take control of the vehicle in an instant. The Autopilot system is not capable of full self-driving operation, but rather an advanced form of semi-autonomous driving that still has a few glaring limitations.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently argued that the incidents do not involve drivers who are unaware of the disclaimers and warnings. Instead, he believes the serious accidents involve experienced users who have become complacent and consciously choose to ignore the warnings.
"They get too used to it," he told analysts on a Q1 conference call. "It is not a lack of understanding of what Autopilot can do. It's actually thinking they know more about Autopilot than they do ... quite a significant understanding of it."
The executive cites NHTSA numbers pointing to an automotive fatality every 85 million miles driven in 2017. Tesla was every 320 million miles, though he does not break down a separate comparison limited to modern peer vehicles that must adhere to the same set of current safety standards. The average car on US roads is more than 11 years old, according to an IHS study released in 2015.
In any case, the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have taken an interest in the recent accidents to determine if the technology is being rolled out safely.
Some safety critics claim that Tesla is too lax in how it monitors driver engagement, making a comparison to General Motors' eye-tracking tech in the Cadillac CT6, but Musk says such technology isn't a viable alternative to Tesla's industry-standard monitoring of hands on the steering wheel.
This is false. Eyetracking rejected for being ineffective, not for cost. WSJ fails to mention that Tesla is safest car on road, which would make article ridiculous. Approx 4X better than avg.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 14, 2018
To help back its claims with more clear data, Tesla promises to release updated safety statistics for its fleet every quarter.
Photos via South Jordan Police Department, AP.