Tesla Model S tops insurance charts, autopilot is back in the news

Aurich / Getty / Tesla

Does Tesla’s Autopilot Software Disagree with Emergency Services? It’s a frivolous question, but there’s something behind it. On Tuesday, a Model S electric vehicle – with the autopilot activated, according to the driver – crashed into a police car in Laguna Beach, California. The police car was unoccupied at the time, but the Tesla driver suffered minor injuries. Last month, another Model S, also under autopilot, crashed into the back of a stationary fire truck in South Jordan, Utah, resulting in a broken ankle for the Tesla driver. And in January, a third Autopiloted Model S plowed into the back of another fire truck, this time in Culver City, California.

However, it’s probably best to avoid the conspiracy theories. It’s not a bug with the autopilot’s sensors and flashing lights – it’s more like inattentive drivers who should be careful of the road. As we learned last year, automatic emergency braking is only trained in relatively tight conditions, typically on a moving vehicle that is driving directly in front of the car. For example, a stationary emergency vehicle on the hard shoulder, in particular one at an angle, may possibly not be correctly classified in order to trigger the function.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for autopilot. The suite of advanced driver assistance systems, which includes adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning, was blamed for the destruction of a Model 3 in Greece last week. In this case, the facts are even more obscure – the car was on an unsupported road trip at the time, and Tesla had warned the owner before leaving.

“While we appreciate it [driver] You You Xue’s effort to make the Model 3 known, he was told that Tesla does not yet have a presence in Eastern Europe and that there is no connectivity or no service available for vehicles, ”a Tesla spokesman told Ars not approved and homologated for driving outside of the USA and Canada. Although we couldn’t get any data from the vehicle because the accident occurred in an unsupported area, Tesla always knew that when using the autopilot, the driver must remain responsible for the car at all times. We are sorry to hear that this accident happened and we are glad that you are safe. “


Last week, Tesla also settled a class action lawsuit filed last year by owners who alleged the company misrepresented the capabilities of Enhanced Autopilot, a $ 5,000 electric vehicle option.

One might feel sorry for Tesla, as it is often the company’s most loyal “superusers” who keep getting Tesla into trouble by overstepping the system’s limits – familiarity ultimately creates contempt. It is important to emphasize again that the autopilot is not a self-driving system and was never designed to allow the driver to transfer situational awareness to the car. Whenever you drive a Tesla and use autopilot – or any car with adaptive cruise control – it’s always your job to watch out for the road in front of you.

Are Tesla’s security claims supported by the data?

It is reasonable to ask why accidents are covered with Teslas when the overwhelming majority of the 40,000+ road deaths in the US don’t get such a test each year. A couple of factors play a role. The first is the autopilot, which, through its operational design, allows cars to drive over long intervals without human interaction or any form of driver monitoring beyond a torque sensor in the steering wheel. (In contrast, the industry standard for other adaptive cruise control and lane keeping systems is only 15 seconds of hands-free calling before deactivation.) Therefore, the first question someone asks of every accident with a Tesla is: “Was autopilot? Drive?”

In addition, Tesla itself repeatedly talks about the safety of its cars and thus attracts the attention of the media. At various times it has claimed its vehicles are four times safer than average – and sometimes they are the safest cars on the road. Tesla electric vehicles actually do very well in crash tests – even if the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did not count the Model S among the three safest luxury sedans in 2017. Neither the Model S nor the Model X are in the institute’s list of top safety tips for 2018

But there is also reason to be skeptical about the company’s claims. For example, Tesla repeatedly cites a statistic from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration that introducing Autosteer to autopilot reduced accidents by 40 percent. But last month the NHTSA informed us that it was a “preliminary settlement” and that the agency “had not assessed the effectiveness of this technology”.

It is reasonable to expect that a luxury car like a Tesla would have an above-average safety record, based on both owner demographics and the average age of the vehicles. On the flip side, the Model S didn’t appear on the IIHS list of 11 vehicles that had no occupant deaths between 2012 and 2015, a list that included several other luxury cars and SUVs. And just in the past few weeks there has been a spate of fatal Tesla crashes, both here in the US and in Norway and Switzerland.


“In the US there is a death every 86 million miles on all vehicles from all manufacturers. At Tesla, there is one fatality, including known pedestrian deaths, every 320 million miles in vehicles equipped with autopilot hardware.If Tesla is equipped with autopilot hardware, the chance of being involved in a fatal accident is 3.7- times less, “Tesla told us.” The Tesla autopilot doesn’t prevent all accidents – such a standard would be impossible – but it does reduce the likelihood of them happening. It clearly makes the world safer for vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists. ” Note that autopilot is unlikely to be a factor in all but one of the most recent fatal accidents.)

The Model S is now the most expensive car to be insured

Whether or not Autopilot is involved, the insurance industry – a dispassionate industry, if there was one – looked at the Model S and found it to be flawed. According to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, analyzed by 24/7 Wall Street, the top-selling electric vehicle in the U.S. is also the most expensive car to insure in the country. The average annual insurance premium for a Model S sedan is now $ 1,789.48, with an average accident insurance claim of $ 1,310. Insurance for the second most expensive car on the list – the flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedan – costs you $ 1,540.63, with an average collision damage of just $ 803.40.

Last year, AAA raised tariffs for both Model S and Model X electric vehicles, citing unusually high claims frequencies and high costs for insurance claims compared to other luxury vehicles. Tesla was not pleased and denied AAA’s claims, stating that its cars were not being adequately compared. To combat the sky high insurance rates problem, Tesla has partnered with Liberty Mutual to draw insurance plans specifically for its electric vehicles, and according to Electrek, Tesla recently hired a former Liberty Mutual manager to run the InsureMyTesla program here in the US. A Tesla spokesperson told us, “Tesla guarantees that there will always be an insurance provider that charges less for a Model S or X than any other car with a similar driver, price and vehicle category,” added that the Model 3 now also is part of the program.

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