NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Fatal Uber Crash In Arizona


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.

On-board software initially classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, then as a vehicle, and finally as a bicycle in the seconds leading up to the crash, though the vehicle couldn't definitively predict the bike's path and adjust accordingly. In fact, investigators say the XC90's factory-equipped automatic emergency braking system managed to detect Herzberg and concluded emergency braking was necessary seconds before impact, but it was unable to intervene.

".emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior", or to provide a more enjoyable and smoother ride for passengers.

While the Uber safety drivers are responsible for monitoring the car's driving and stopping for pedestrians and other obstructions, they must also monitor the car's computers and keep logs of events, the NTSB said.

Shortly after saying the ride-hailing company was not at fault, video released by police showed Uber's human backup driver with their head down until the moment they realized the vehicle they were behind the wheel of was about to strike someone.

The report said that the Uber safety driver, Rafaela Vasquez, only spotted the pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, less than a second before the fatal impact and didn't brake until less than a second after the collision. However, the temporary suspension is due to last only until this summer when Uber plans to resume the testing on the roads of Pittsburgh and two cities in California.

The 49-year-old pedestrian's actions also set a unsafe scene. It didn't have a specific comment on the NTSB report.

As Uber announced it would end its self-driving operations in Arizona, it announced that it would refocus its efforts on the program in Pittsburgh and San Francisco. Uber disables that and several other safety features when the auto is being controlled by Uber's self-driving system but keeps them on when the vehicle is being driven manually by a person.

Alain Kornhauser, faculty chairman of autonomous vehicle engineering at Princeton University, told the Associated Press that Uber likely determined in testing that its system braked in situations it shouldn't have, possibly for overpasses, signs and trees. While her personal and business telephones were in the vehicle, she said neither was in use at the time of the crash.

Uber said after the incident that it was "fully co-operating" with the police investigation and has expressed condolences to the victim's family.

Peduto, in a statement released Wednesday, said the city would require self-driving cars to not exceed 25 miles per hour in the city, regardless of the legal speed limit, and use its app to keep human drivers under the speed limit. The bicycle she was pushing had reflectors, the NTSB said, but they were facing away from the oncoming Uber.

After Uber ran into some issues with California regarding the program in 2016, Ducey began campaigning for the company to come test its vehicles in Arizona.

Medina, who lives in Tempe, agreed that the crash site is well-lit, relatively speaking, and that Vasquez's familiarity with that stretch of road, where pedestrians often jaywalk, should have helped prevent an accident.