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Status Report, Vol. 53, No. 4 | SPECIAL ISSUE: AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES | August 7, 2018 Subscribe

Fewer physical damage, injury liability claims for Model S with advanced features

The combined crash avoidance features on the Tesla Model S are reducing third-party physical damage and injury liability claims, while the benefit of adding "Autopilot" is limited to lowering collision claims.

HLDI compared the claims experience of 2014–16 Model S cars equipped with version 1 of Tesla's sensing hardware with the 2012–14 Model S sans the technology. Analysts also examined Model S claims before and after Autopilot was enabled to try to isolate the incremental effects of the system and its related features.

Version 1 hardware supports forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning. It also supports Autopilot and its associated features, Autopark, Autosteer, Lane Assist and Lane Change. These require an optional upgrade.

The combined driver assistance features on the 2014–16 Model S lowered the frequency of claims filed under property damage liability (PDL) coverage by 11 percent and the frequency of claims under bodily injury (BI) liability coverage by 21 percent, compared with the 2012–14 Model S without the technology, HLDI found.

PDL coverage pays for damage that an at-fault driver causes to another vehicle. BI pays for injuries that an at-fault driver causes to occupants of other vehicles or others on the road.

Looking at first-party injury coverage types, HLDI found a 29 percent increase in the frequency of claims under medical payment (Medpay) coverage and a 39 percent increase in the frequency of personal injury protection (PIP) claims.

MedPay covers injuries to an at-fault driver or passengers in that driver's vehicle, while PIP coverage is sold in states with no-fault insurance systems. This coverage pays for injuries to occupants of the insured vehicle, no matter who is at fault.

Claim frequency is the number of claims for a group of vehicles divided by the exposure for that group, expressed in the study as claims per 1,000 insured vehicle years for injury claims and per 100 insured vehicle years for physical damage claims. An insured vehicle year is one vehicle insured for one year or two vehicles insured for six months each.

HLDI didn't find a significant effect on the frequency of collision claims for the combined driver assistance features. Collision coverage pays for damage to a driver's vehicle if he or she is at fault in a crash.

The findings for PDL, BI and collision claims are in line with prior HLDI research on forward collision warning, autobrake and blind spot monitoring. For MedPay and PIP, it is unclear why the driver assistance technologies are associated with increased claim frequency.

One hallmark of Tesla models is the ability to wirelessly receive software updates to enable driver assistance and other features if equipped with the needed hardware.

Tesla activated the software for Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, forward collision warning and automatic high beams for models with version 1 hardware, starting in January 2015. Autobrake and blind spot warning were activated in March 2015, followed by Autopilot and its associated systems in October 2015.

Tesla touts Autopilot as a safety upgrade, so HLDI analysts were eager to zero in on the benefits of it alone. However, several things limited their ability to conduct a comprehensive analysis.

Since Autopilot is an optional feature, analysts couldn't discern which vehicles had Autopilot and whether it — and other available driver assistance features — was on at the time of the crash. The limitation forced HLDI to compare losses for the Model S with hardware version 1 before and after Autopilot was enabled instead of comparing vehicles with and without the system over a specific time frame. The pre-Autopilot period included only the nine months of data after Tesla activated forward collision warning and before it enabled Autopilot.

In this limited analysis, HLDI found that the frequency of claims filed under PDL, BI, MedPay and PIP didn't change once Autopilot was enabled, but the frequency of collision claims fell by 13 percent.

"To get a better picture of how Autopilot is affecting claims, we need more data on how many Teslas are equipped with Autopilot and how often it is used," says Matt Moore, HLDI's senior vice president. "The reductions in the frequency of third-party physical damage and injury liability claims associated with Tesla's version 1 hardware are in line with the benefits HLDI has documented for comparable systems from other manufacturers."

Moore adds, "When we evaluated Teslas with the version 1 hardware after the Autopilot software was deployed, we saw a significant reduction in collision claim frequency but no other changes."

Estimated effect on claim frequency of Tesla Model S driver assistance technology enabled by hardware version 1, including 'Autopilot'

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