Tesla’s autopilot function works wonders, but is not completely reliable yet.

No matter how well you think you drive, human drivers have limits. It’s not a man or woman versus machine problem, it’s just that we’re all human and prone to distractions and accidents. Our reaction times are unpredictable and often too slow to avoid a collision, and when we panic, our reactions can become fatal to us and others on the road. Now we have Tesla Motors with its autopilot feature. It has driven owners 130 million miles (94 million miles separates humans and fatal crashes) and in early July it reported its first fatal crash involving its automated driving feature.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder and CEO was quick to spill statistics, “. . . Of the over 1 million auto deaths per year worldwide, approximately half a million people would have been saved if the Tesla autopilot was universally available.”

The data is clear: autopilot is much safer than human drivers. But many are quick to ask what margin of error is good enough when it comes to human drivers? A question that has philosophical, statistical, and political answers.

The autopilot feature is meant only for highway driving, and may well make that safer, but standard traffic safety statistics include a much broader range of driving conditions, which may not make the autopilot as safe as one might think.

While autopilot is surely making amazing strides towards a future in which human drivers, accidents, and traffic are things of the past, it’s best to keep your own hands on the wheel when highway conditions aren’t perfect: not so much autopilot but auto assist!

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