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Self-driving cars crash, too, but figuring out what it means requires much better data - The Verge

Self-driving cars crash, too, but figuring out what it means requires much better data - The Verge

NHTSA’s first-ever crash reporting involving autonomous and driver-assist-equipped vehicles is helpful but doesn’t present a complete picture. The data needs to be standardized, but it’s not clear when that will happen.

This week, for the first time ever, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released data on crashes involving cars equipped with advanced driver-assist systems and automated driving technology. A lot of headlines — including The Verge’s — focused on the number of Tesla vehicles that crashed, which is understandable because Tesla had a lot of crashes.

But the numbers themselves don’t tell us the whole story. In fact, they don’t really tell us much of any story at all. Not yet.

That’s because we’re still missing a lot of key details, like the number of vehicle miles driven or the prominence of advanced driver-assist technology in each manufacturer’s fleet. NHTSA receives the data through varying sources, including customer complaints and different telematics systems. Depending upon the reporting mechanism, different information may be available to report. Companies were allowed to withhold certain details they consider to be “confidential business information.”

“From a researcher’s standpoint, it would, of course, be wonderful if this data set not only was more standardized but also more complete with fewer redactions,” said J. Christian Gerdes, professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and co-director of the Center for Automotive Research. “Practically speaking, however, that is asking a lot.”

In many ways, Tesla is an outlier, not just because it produced the most crash reports of all the manufacturers — 273 crashes, with three injuries and five deaths — but also because of the method it uses to report these numbers.

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