Uber Disengaged Emergency Braking System Before Automated Car Killed Pedestrian

A National Transportation Safety Board report says self-driving car 'saw' woman before hitting and killing her.

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A National Transportation Safety Board report says self-driving car 'saw' woman before hitting and killing her.

A preliminary National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report, released Thursday, determined that Uber disengaged the braking system of the self-driving vehicle involved in a fatal pedestrian accident in Arizona in March.

According to Reuters, the on-board radar system of the automated 2017 Volvo XC90 “saw” Elaine Herzberg, 49, as she walked her bicycle outside the crosswalk of a four-lane road in Tempe, Arizona.

The computer system, according to the Reuters article, had problems discerning Herzberg and did not determine that brakes needed to be applied until 1.3 seconds before the car hit and killed her.

“The self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path,” the preliminary report stated in the article.

Uber said the automatic braking function was disabled in order to reduce possible “erratic behavior.”

While the car did eventually recognize the need to brake, it did not have a way to notify the human safety operator, striking Herzberg at an estimated 39 mph.

The article said the operator told police that she was monitoring the vehicle’s self-driving systems and video showed she was looking down moments before the accident, and by the time she reacted, it was too late to avoid hitting Herzberg.

Tempe police told Reuters Wednesday that an investigation into the crash was completed and that the results were turned over to prosecutors for review, but did not release the results of the investigation.

The report also said that Herzberg tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana and only looked in the direction of the car right before impact.

It was the first fatality with one of the Uber self-driving cars, according to Reuters.

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Uber voluntarily suspended tests of the self-driving system in Arizona following the crash, but that state’s governor subsequently suspended the company’s testing permit, Reuters reported.

“As their investigation continues, we’ve initiated our own safety review of our self-driving vehicles program,” the company said.

While the final report may take up to a year to complete, Reuters reported that the incident is increasing calls to better regulate the self-driving industry.

Other cities the company planned to test the system in now want to see more regulatory control before Uber can operate the automated vehicles in those communities.In the article, spokesmen from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Sacramento, California, said they are concerned about testing in those cities and want Uber to meet stricter regulations.

“The NTSB report really shines a light on the importance of safety and security of vehicles, so I think it hardens our stance a little bit on safety and security,” Louis Stewart, Sacramento’s chief innovation officer, told Reuters.