Uber Fatal Accident SUV Had Safety Flaws – NSTB

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Uber self-driving car that hit and killed a pedestrian crossing the road had ‘safety flaws’, said the NSTB

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has found that the Uber self-driving car that hit and killed a pedestrian was not programmed to handle jaywalkers.

In March 2018, one of Uber’s self-driving cars was involved in the fatal accident after it hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, while in the car was in autonomous mode.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, died from her injuries after she crossed the Arizona road late at night, right in front of the Uber self-driving car, a 2017 Volvo XC90.

volvo auto driving

NSTB investigation

Just before the crash, Herzberg had been walking with a bicycle across a poorly lit stretch of a multi-lane road.

The fatality in Tempe, Arizona, was thought to be the first death caused by an autonomous vehicle on public roads.

Tempe police said the Volvo XC90 SUV was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, with a single human safety driver.

Following the accident, Uber suspended tests in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. The company’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi called the incident “incredibly sad”.

The accident triggered an investigation by the NSTB, which has now concluded that the car’s software lacked the programming to either recognize or respond to the presence of jaywalkers on the road.

The NSTB report found numerous “safety and design lapses” but stopping short of identifying the cause of the accident.

The NSTB investigators also found that the system design of Uber’s Volvo did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians. Also conclusions was that Uber built in a one-second delay between crash detection and action to avoid false positives.

The investigators also disabled a Volvo auto-braking system that could have reduced the speed of the car, and that the in car systems systems had actually spotted Herzberg (in the darkness) approximately 5.6 seconds before the collision.

Unfortunately, it classified her as a number of different objects, and failed to realise an impact was imminent.

Additionally, the NSTB report noted there had been 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in self-driving mode between September 2016 and March 2018.

Not liable

In March this year local prosecutors ruled that Uber was not criminally liable for the death of Herzberg.

But the car’s back-up safety driver could still face criminal charges, as video from the cabin showed Rafaela Vasquez taking her eyes off the road moments before the accident.

Vasquez could be facing charges of vehicular manslaughter, as local police alleged that Vasquez was looking down at the time of the crash.

Indeed, she is alleged to have been watching a streamed episode of the television show “The Voice” on a phone seconds before the crash.

Vasquez only looked up a half-second before hitting Herzberg, and police called the incident “entirely avoidable”.

Uber response

“We deeply value the thoroughness of the NTSB’s investigation into the crash and look forward to reviewing their recommendations,” Uber was quoted by the BBC as saying in a statement.

The fatal accident was a big blow to the self-driving car sector. Other firms also temporarily halted their testing after the accident.

Uber has only partially resumed testing of its self-driving cars. It has left Arizona altogether, but has resumed limited self-driving car testing in Pittsburgh, where their cars are restricted to a small loop they can drive only in good weather.

However it has not resumed testing in either San Francisco or Toronto.

Uber has also tweaked its testing procedures.

Tests now involve two people sitting in the front seat, and Uber has also increased its monitoring of the safety drivers.

The firm has also made improvements to the vehicles’ self-driving software.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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