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The dangers of driverless cars

Are autonomous vehicles really making our roads safer?

Often referred to as robotic, driverless or self-driving, an autonomous car is a vehicle with technology that enables it to function independently of a driver's actions on some level. Currently, automotive engineers recognize 6 levels of autonomous function. They include:

    • Level 0 (No automation). The majority of cars on the road are Level 0 vehicles.


    • Level 1 (Some driver assistance). Cars with only 1 automation system, such as cruise control.


    • Level 2 (Partial automation). Cars with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that control steering and speed but require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel at all times.


    • Level 3 (Conditional driving automation). Cars with more advanced technology for making decisions in response to road conditions but require the driver to pay attention and override the system when needed. There are no Level 3 vehicles currently available in the U.S.


    • Level 4 (High driving automation). Cars with this technology don’t require driver participation in most instances, but a human driver can still override the system.


  • Level 5 (Full driving automation). Cars with this technology (if they eventually become available) would be 100% autonomous. Some Level 5 cars are currently in the testing phase.

As of 2022, most vehicles available to the average consumer feature the bottom 3 tiers of this technology. Some companies manufacture autonomous cars with upper-level technology, but completely automated Level 5 vehicles are still in the development and testing phases.

Tesla’s self-driving vehicles

Tesla is one of the most well-known manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. The technology in cars equipped with “Tesla Autopilot” (Tesla’s driver-assistance system) enables vehicles to function without driver control. However, drivers must maintain constant attention during travel and take control of the car should the need arise.

Each Tesla Autopilot vehicle contains programming that allows them to independently stay within a designated lane and change lanes when necessary. Cars equipped with their more advanced “full self-driving” beta system can travel through both city streets and residential areas and are programmed to stop at stop signs and traffic signals while making all required turns.

However, recent investigations have revealed that Tesla's driverless cars were responsible for the majority of autonomous car collisions from June 2021 to June 2022.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), accident reports indicate that out of 392 crashes involving Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) over the last year, 273 involved Tesla cars (about 70 percent).

Upon further investigation, the NHTSA also discovered unreported accidents involving the company's vehicles that dated back to 2016.

The most common causes of accidents in driverless cars

Rear-end collisions account for 62 percent of autonomous car accidents. More often than not, drivers of the rear vehicle were deemed responsible for the events because they were distracted and not paying attention to the actions of the autonomous cars.

Sideswiping accounted for another 21 percent of the collisions. Once again, drivers of the human-operated vehicles were largely cited for the events due to misjudgment or lack of attention.

Driverless cars have been touted as a means of reducing car accidents by minimizing or eliminating human error. However, autonomous vehicles continue to have a higher incidence of collisions.

In fact, for every 1 million conventional human-driven vehicles on the road, 4.1 are involved in accidents compared to 9.1 driverless vehicles.

Level 2 driverless car accident statistics

As of June 2021, the NHTSA requires that manufacturers and operators of autonomous vehicles report collisions involving Level 2 ADAS to their agency.

The technology featured in these vehicles includes the ability to maintain or adjust speed secondary to cruise control settings and traffic speed. The system also ensures that the vehicle travels in a designated lane by providing steering assistance. Steering system technology also makes corrections as needed should a vehicle veer outside the lane without the driver having used a turn signal. Despite these assistive features, drivers remain in control of the vehicles at all times.

Accident reports must include whether Level 2 ADAS technology was engaged at the time of the collision. Additional required information includes incidents of occupants hospitalization, occupant fatalities, airbag deployment and vehicle towing.

As of May 15, 2022, the NHTSA received reports detailing information for 392 collisions involving Level 2 ADAS vehicles. Of the accidents reported, 125 occurred in California. The vehicles involved in the accidents were manufactured by Honda, Subaru and Tesla.

According to the data, of the 98 cases in which the injury status of the passenger is known:

    • 46 reported no injuries


    • 19 reported minor injuries


    • 22 reported moderate injuries



Additionally, another vehicle was involved in 116 of the collisions, while 98 of the events involved colliding with a fixed object such as a tree or utility pole.

Accident statistics involving Level 3 to 5 autonomous vehicles

The NHTSA also requires that crashes involving cars with Levels 3, 4 and 5 Automated Driving Systems (ADS) be reported by the vehicle manufacturer or operator. The reporting requirements remain the same as collisions involving Level 2 ADAS vehicles.

As of May 15, 2022,  data from the NHTSA shows that 130 crashes have been reported involving ADS-equipped vehicles. According to the data, of the 124 cases in which the injury status of the passenger is known:

    • 108 reported no injuries


    • 12 reported minor injuries


    • 3 reported moderate injuries


    • 1 reported serious injuries


  • 0 reported fatalities

Of these 130 crashes, 108 involved another vehicle, while only 7 involved a fixed object.

When to contact a California car accident attorney

If you or a loved one was involved in an accident with an autonomous vehicle, you need an experienced car accident attorney who is up to date on the ever-evolving regulations and laws surrounding these types of crashes.

At MVP Accident Attorneys, our lawyers have extensive experience with car accident cases and can answer all your questions about lawsuits involving autonomous vehicles. While accidents involving a car with self-driving technology can be more complicated than most, our attorneys can guide you through the process and handle all the negotiations with the insurance company to ensure you get the maximum compensation you deserve.

Contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation of your case.

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