You may have heard that Tesla recently reported the first fatality in one of its cars using Autopilot, the software that lets cars steer themselves, change lanes, avoid obstacles, and even self-park.
Joshua Brown was driving in his Model S on Autopilot when it hit a truck turning in front of his car, travelled under said truck, and then hit a power pole. He was 40 years old. (The New York Times has a great visual story offering more details about Brown’s relationship with Tesla, Autopilot, as well as this particular accident.)
Lots of people are freaking out about this news. After all, plenty of companies are working on self-driving cars, and this fatality proves that the technology, while promising, is not infallible. That said, this tweet from Vanity Fair correspondent Nick Bilton sums up why you shouldn’t worry about this death affecting the future of self-driving cars.
1.3 million people die a year in car accidents. Yet, 1 person dies in a Tesla on autopilot and people decry driverless cars as unsafe.
— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) July 2, 2016
While this tweet is admittedly a bit over-the-top, especially since any number of human deaths should not be downplayed, it does help to drive home a point: Computers are still likely going to be safer than humans behind the wheel.
Bilton’s tweet cited the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), which claims over 3,000 people die each day around the world from road crashes. And over 30,000 car-related deaths occur in the US alone each year, according to the IIHS. So yes, self-driving cars are out to solve a big problem: Cars are dangerous, and too many people die from them. Humans are imperfect, it’s as simple as that. One of my college friends was killed by a drunk driver. These tragedies happen far too often.
“This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated,” Tesla said in a blog post. “Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.”
These statistics aren’t meant to lessen the significance of Joshua Brown’s death. That accident is truly a tragedy. But these numbers do provide important perspective: Self-driving cars may never be perfect, but they’re still better at driving than humans are, and that alone justfies their existence.
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