Tesla Safety Features Are Reducing Some Kinds of Liability Claims

Some types of insurance claims for Tesla Model S sedans have declined since the introduction of collision-avoidance features, and Autopilot may also have reduced some claims, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety finds.

This report follows serious criticism of some adaptive cruise control systems currently on the market described as “irksome” and “dangerous” by an IIHS study.

Two kinds of claims related to damage and injury to others declined after Tesla began to equip the Model S with an array of advanced driver assistance features, which now include Autopilot as an option, IIHS’s Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) noted in an Aug. 7 report. Two other types of claims, for drivers and passengers in the Tesla cars, increased.

In what might be the most notable change, claims for collision damage to insured Model S vehicles have fallen by 13% since the availability of Autopilot, Tesla’s optional feature that handles some steering tasks. Other types of claims haven’t changed since that introduction. But because the researchers couldn’t tell which sedans had the optional feature, or which had it activated at the time of the accident, HLDI said it needs more data to draw conclusions about the effects of Autopilot.

A Tesla representative declined to comment on the HLDI report.

Tesla says Autopilot makes driving safer and saves lives. On a financial conference call in May, CEO Elon Musk said the company would issue quarterly reports backing up this claim. No reports have come out yet. Even though the system can steer the car in some situations, the company says drivers need to keep driving while using it, and the system warns them if they take their hands off the wheel.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) could improve road safety by making up for human drivers’ limitations. But as new, complex technologies entrusted with safety, they have come under sharp scrutiny. The same day HLDI disclosed its findings on Model S insurance claims, the group reported that ADAS in some cars — including some Tesla models — performed inconsistently and sometimes dangerously. Autopilot has drawn even more controversy following two fatal crashes that occurred when the feature was turned on.

The Model S first went on the market in 2012. In its insurance study, HLDI compared claims for Model S sedans sold before and after the 2014 introduction of Tesla’s Version 1 sensor hardware and three features that came with it: forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and blind-spot hazard warnings. Tesla then made further active safety features available, including Autopilot.

Compared to units shipped without the Version 1 hardware, cars purchased between 2014 and 2016 had 11% fewer claims for property damage liability, which covers damage that an at-fault driver causes to another vehicle. And they had 21% fewer bodily injury claims, which relate to injuries that the driver at fault causes to people in other cars or on the road. There was no change in claims for collision damage to the Tesla drivers’ cars.

Those results were in line with findings for some other car models with collision-avoidance technology, HLDI said.

However, the group also saw some other types of claims increase. The 2014-2016 cars had a 29% higher claim rate under medical payment coverage, which is for the at-fault driver or passengers in their car, and 39% more claims for personal injury protection. The latter is a form of coverage for people in the insured car, used in states with no-fault insurance. HLDI said it couldn’t determine why those two rates increased.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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