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Official: Safety lacking before Uber self-driving car crash

Posted at 3:56 PM, Nov 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-19 18:07:03-05

TEMPE, AZ — The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board says Uber had an ineffective safety culture when one of its autonomous test vehicles ran down and killed a female pedestrian last year in Tempe, Arizona.

Robert Sumwalt, Chairman at National Transportation Safety Board, said at a hearing Tuesday on the March 2018 crash that Uber didn't continually monitor its operations and it had de-activated its Volvo SUV's automatic emergency braking system.

The crash occurred near Mill Avenue and Curry Road in March 2018, when one of Uber's self-driving SUVs hit and killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, as she was crossing mid-block. Her family filed a $10 million notice of claim with the City of Tempe, saying that a brick pathway "is clearly designed to accommodate people to cross" at the crash scene.

Uber's own system also didn't have the ability to brake automatically, relying on a human backup driver to do the braking. He says all companies that test autonomous vehicles on public roads need to study the crash to prevent future accidents.

The Yavapai County Attorney cleared Uber in the deadly self-driving car crash. The Yavapai County attorney reviewed the case due to a potential conflict of interest because the Maricopa County Attorney's Office had partnered with Uber in the past.

The NTSB said that the Uber vehicle was able to detect the victim 5.6 seconds before the crash, but it was unable to identify it as either a cyclist, pedestrian or or what direction she was headed in. The system also did not include a provision for detecting jaywalking pedestrians, the agency said.

The Uber driver was streaming a television show and looking down just before the crash. The NTSB said Uber had cameras monitoring the drivers, but it didn't do spot checks to make sure they were paying attention.

It said Uber has made many safety improvements since the crash, including activating the braking systems, better training of human backup drivers, adding a second driver and hiring a safety director. Herzberg was impaired by methamphetamines at the time of the crash and crossed a road in the dark away from an intersection, according to the NTSB staff.