Demographics and Safety and the Tesla Model 3

Will the Tesla Model 3 bring an uptick in Autopilot-related traffic fatalities?

It seems like that question can be broken into two parts: how many new cars will be sold, and how safe will Model 3 drivers be relative to Model S and Model X drivers?

To the first question, there are approximately 300,000 Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles on the road. Meanwhile, the Model 3 waitlist is about 400,000 people long. Of course, not every person on the waitlist will ultimately purchase a Model 3, but it seems likely Tesla will at least double its installed base over the next couple of years.

Since there has been one fatality attributed to Autopilot in the past two years, maybe with a doubled installed base Tesla will experience two fatalities over the next two years?

Maybe fewer — one or zero — since presumably Autopilot has gotten better over time.

As an aside, Tesla Autopilot is amazing. It is (along with GM SuperCruise) the best Advanced Driver Assistance System on the market. My guess is that it has saved a lot of lives.

But every time there is a crash involving Autopilot, the safety of self-driving cars gets evaluated.

So the question of how safe Model 3 drivers will be seems important.

The Model S and Model X are high-price luxury vehicles, on the order of $100,000 out the door. The Model 3, on the other hand, is designed for a decidedly lower price-point buyer: $50,000 out the door.

On average, older Americans are wealthier, and my guess would be Model S and Model X buyers are quite a bit older than Model 3 buyers.

Older drivers are also, on average, safer drivers (this changes somewhere above age 65, but it’s true for most ages).

If a lot of Model 3 buyers are younger, less safe drivers, it’s possible that we’ll see an uptick in Autopilot-related fatalities in the coming years. Intuitively, think of more younger drivers watching Netflix while Autopilot drives the car.

Of course, all of this is pretty speculative. I imagine both Tesla and automotive insurers have much better models for how this is likely to play it. But it seems worth watching.

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