Autonomous vehicle safety myths and facts, 2019 update

It has became a tradition that I write a quick update on the state of self driving car development every year when the California DMV releases their disengagement data [ 2017 post here, 2018 post here]. 2018 was an important year for self driving as we had seen the first fatal accident caused by an autonomous vehicle (the infamous Uber crash in Arizona).

Let me start with a disclaimer: I plot disengagements against human crashes and fatalities not because it is a good comparison, but because this is the only comparison we have. There are many reasons why this is not the best measure and depending on the reason the actual "safety" of AV may be either somewhat better or significantly worse than indicated here. Below are some of my reasons:

  • A disengagement is a situation in which a machine cannot be trusted and the human operator takes over to avoid any danger. The precise definition under California law is:
    a deactivation of the autonomous mode when a failure of the autonomous technology is detected or when the safe operation of the vehicle requires that the autonomous vehicle test driver disengage the autonomous mode and take immediate manual