Crucial System Was Off in Fatal Self-Driving Uber Crash

Preliminary NTSB report is out on crash that killed pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted May 24, 2018 1:12 PM CDT
Probe of Fatal Self-Driving Uber Crash Finds Crucial System Was Off
This file image made from video March 18, 2018, of a mounted camera provided by the Tempe Police Department shows an exterior view moments before an Uber SUV hit a woman in Tempe, Ariz.   (Tempe Police Department via AP, File)

The self-driving Uber vehicle that hit and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March had its emergency braking system disabled, according to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board released Thursday. Per the report, the self-driving system also failed in identifying the woman, Reuters reports, first classifying her as an unknown object six seconds before impact, then as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle (she was carrying a bike across the road) before finally, 1.3 seconds before impact, determining it needed to execute an emergency brake. But since those maneuvers had been disabled, the 2017 Volvo XC90 ultimately struck and killed Elaine Herzberg, 49. The safety operator behind the wheel of the vehicle, who can be seen in a video looking down until just before the crash, told the NTSB she was monitoring the self-driving system interface at the time.

The report also notes that Herzberg, who tested positive for pot and methamphetamine, did not look toward the SUV until just before she was hit and was not in a crosswalk at the time. Per the report, Uber had disabled the emergency braking system, with which XC90s are typically equipped, while the vehicle was under computer control to "reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior," the Wall Street Journal reports. But Uber had not, per the NTSB, programmed the system to alert the driver of the need to brake, USA Today reports. "As their investigation continues, we’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program," said Uber in a statement Thursday. The company suspended its self-driving testing program in Arizona after the crash, which was the first time a fully self-driving vehicle has caused a death. Police in Tempe, where the crash took place, have completed an investigation of the accident and handed the findings to prosecutors for review. (More Uber stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.