According to new research from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, people who drive a Tesla are less likely to have an accident with their electric vehicle compared to driving another brand of vehicle they own.
Cambridge, which monitors driver behavior in millions of vehicles via in-vehicle trackers, smartphone apps and other devices, reported that Research at a presentation Tuesday organized by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The report compared the performance of the same drivers in different cars.
According to the data, the crash rate per million miles driven was 91 percent lower for a person driving a Tesla compared to when the same person was driving another vehicle they owned. That wasn’t the case when the company compared Porsche driver rates: People who drove a Porsche were 55 percent more likely to have an accident than they were driving another brand of cars they owned.
Cambridge Mobile Telematics vice president Ryan McMahon said in an interview that there are a variety of possible explanations for Teslas’ low rate of failures. People who drove Teslas cars were 21 percent less likely to engage in distracted driving using their Tesla phones than when they were driving another car. He said they were 9 percent less likely to drive over the speed limit.
Another factor could be the downtime required to recharge electric vehicles. McMahon said accidents are more likely on long trips, but Tesla drivers have to stop and recharge more frequently and for longer than gas car drivers stop to refuel. “This can create safer conditions for driving due to fatigue,” he said. “Longer flights are more dangerous, but there are EV breaks in flight that require people to stop.”
The data did not measure the specific impact of Tesla’s controversial self-driving features. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has promised that the full self-driving feature in Tesla will be available “next year” for the past nine years. A limited version of the self-driving technology now in use has been blamed for some of the crashes.
McMahon said the report aims to isolate the impact of vehicle design and safety features on accident rates. Studies that typically measure accident rates for different cars may reflect demographic differences in vehicle ownership as well as vehicle features.
The Cambridge Mobile Telematics analysis also comes at a critical time, with road fatalities rising at an alarming rate, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The agency reported last week that an estimated 42,915 people died in car accidents last year, a 10.5 percent increase from 2020 and the highest death toll since 2005.
In Massachusetts, 403 people died in car accidents last year, up from 327 in 2020, according to Masdot.
McMahon said the increased rate of accidents and deaths on the roads since the pandemic began may be due to increased distracted driving. While average speeds and crowding levels have returned to roughly pre-pandemic levels in the Cambridge mobile data, distracted driving is 35% higher.
“We believe that distracted driving is one of the most influential variables that cause crashes,” McMahon said. “Speed generally increased on an overall basis during the pandemic, but it has returned to pre-pandemic numbers.”
However, other researchers have offered alternative explanations for the jump in traffic deaths in the United States, a trend not seen in other countries that also have high smartphone use.
“It may seem strange that Americans start using their phones differently while driving, causing more accidents, but people in other countries haven’t,” said David Zipper, visiting fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.
Better designed roads, cameras to deter speeding, and stricter enforcement of drunken driving rules Europe helped reduce traffic deaths. Zipper said such strategies “dangerously reduce people’s desire to drive even if they are frustrated by the COVID lockdowns, and some may want to.”