Thursday 15 November, 2018

Uber self-drive death: Car ‘saw pedestrian but didn’t brake’

(Image: AP: Uber back-up driver reacts with shock to collision on 18 March 2018 in dashcam footage)

(Image: AP: Uber back-up driver reacts with shock to collision on 18 March 2018 in dashcam footage)

The self-driving Uber car that struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled, according to federal investigators.

In a preliminary report on the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday that emergency braking is not enabled while Uber's cars are under computer control "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behaviour".

Instead, Uber relies on a human back-up driver to intervene. The system, however, is not designed to alert the driver.

In the crash, the driver began steering less than a second before impact but didn't brake until less than a second after impact, according to the preliminary report, which does not determine fault.

A video of the crash showed the driver looking down just before the vehicle struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona.

Uber said in a company release that it had worked closely with the NTSB and was doing an internal review of its self-driving vehicle program. The company has also brought in former NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart "to advise us on our overall safety culture".

The NTSB report comes a day after Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as back-up drivers and performed other jobs. Uber had suspended testing of its self-driving vehicles in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto while regulators investigated the cause of the March 18 crash.

Sensors on the car spotted Herzberg while the car was traveling 43 miles per hour and determined that braking was needed 1.3 seconds before impact, according to the report.

Herzberg was pushing a bicycle across the road at night. The crash occurred on a part of the road that had no crosswalk and was not lighted, the report said.

She was wearing dark clothing and did not look in the direction of the vehicle until just before impact. A toxicology report showed that she tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana, according to the NTSB. Also, the bicycle had no side reflectors and the front and back reflectors were perpendicular to the Uber SUV.

In an interview with the NTSB, Uber's backup driver said she had been monitoring the "self-driving interface". While her personal and business telephones were in the vehicle, she said neither was in use at the time of the crash.

The NTSB, which can make safety recommendations to other federal agencies, said information in the preliminary report can change as the investigation progresses and that no conclusions should be drawn from the report.

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