Elon, get you bloody math right

The tragic death of a Tesla driver using autopilot initiated several articles and very pointy responses by Elon Musk:

Indeed, if anyone bothered to do the math (obviously, you did not) they would realize that of the over 1M auto deaths per year worldwide, approximately half a million people would have been saved if the Tesla autopilot was universally available. Please, take 5 mins and do the bloody math before you write an article that misleads the public.
http://fortune.com/2016/07/05/elon-musk-tesla-autopilot-stock-sale/

Musk hides behind his statistic. Looking beyond the tragic death, the autopilot might overall be a good thing, if life were saved. But are they? Musk took all the cars in the US as an comparision;

This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.

https://www.teslamotors.com/blog/tragic-loss

This makes a very favourable comparison. Looking at the details changes this:

  • The Tesla autopilot is only intended for highways. Driving on highways is way safer per mile than the average road.
  • Thanks to new passive and active safety tech as well as less failures (due to wear) new cars have lot of less fatalities than old cars. Teslas are very new of course.
  • Expensive cars have a lot more safety tech than cheap cars.
  • The Tesla Model S has a great crash rating, which should lead to a significant less deaths than average.
  • The Tesla is more the family car type, which is driven less risky. I guess Tesla drivers (more the green, family man / woman upper middle class typ) tend to drive drunk less (the most common cause for accidents).
  • Limousines are safer in crashes than Pickups.

So if you add up all this factors, it looks like the autopilot doesn’t save lives, but more people are getting killed.

Of course the sample size of 130 million miles driven with one incident is just to small to get a result, which has much statistical significance. But as Elon Musk chose to go this way, I wanted to show, what result you get if you do “your bloody math” right.

In the long run I am very confident, that self driving car technology will save many, many lives. Let just hope that Elon Musks rhetorics doesn’t hurt this cause too much.