How safe are systems like Tesla's Autopilot? No one knows

Autopilot has been on public roads since 2015. General Motors introduced Super Cruise in 2017, and Ford Motor brought out BlueCruise last year. But publicly available data that reliably measures the safety of these technologies is scant. American drivers — whether using these systems or sharing the road with them — are effectively guinea pigs in an experiment whose results have not yet been revealed.

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Carmakers and tech companies are adding more vehicle features that they claim improve safety, but it is difficult to verify these claims. All the while, fatalities on the country’s highways and streets have been climbing in recent years, reaching a 16-year high in 2021. It would seem that any additional safety provided by technological advances is not offsetting poor decisions by drivers behind the wheel.

“There is a lack of data that would give the public the confidence that these systems, as deployed, live up to their expected safety benefits,” said J. Christian Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering and co-director of Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research who was the first chief innovation officer for the Department of Transportation.

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