A Disengagement Means There’s Still A Human Behind The Wheel

The beginning of the calendar year means that the California DMV releases each company’s annual report on disengagements in its autonomous vehicle program. A “disengagement” is an instance in which a human safety driver takes control of the vehicle because the autonomous systems fails.

The disengagement reports are difficult to compare across companies, because different companies have different standards, such as under what circumstances a safety driver should intervene. That doesn’t stop the comparisons, though.

Waymo has the lowest disengagement rate: “1 disengage per 11,017 miles self-driven.” Cruise follows with a rate of, “once every 5,205 miles.” On top of that, Cruise likes to emphasize that it drives in San Francisco, a more challenging environment than most of Waymo’s suburban miles.

Apple and Tesla came in for shaming, although for different reasons. Apple published the worst disengagement rate of any company: once per mile. Tesla reports no self-driving miles, at all, which raises questions about the validity of its “full self-driving” feature set.

All of the disengagement data, though, elides an important fact, which is that disengagements require a human behind the wheel. That means that, almost a year after Waymo tried out fully driverless vehicles in Arizona, and several months after winning approval to go driverless in California, it’s not yet past the disengagement stage.

This is was widely reported a few months ago, so it’s not news. But it’s a reminder that there’s still a ways to go yet.

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