Uber, Distracted Driver Cited for Fatal Crash in Arizona Claims NTSB

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【Summary】The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued its findings into what caused the fatal accident involving one of Uber’s autonomous vehicles and a pedestrian in 2018.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jan 07, 2020 3:00 PM PT
Uber, Distracted Driver Cited for Fatal Crash in Arizona Claims NTSB

Last March, one of Uber's autonomous Volvos struck and killed a pedestrian. The vehicle was operating autonomously, but had a safety driver at the wheel. Initially, reports indicated that the safety driver was at fault, as she was watching a TV show when the pedestrian was struck. Now, after nearly a year and a half, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has come out with an official statement that puts the blame on both Uber and the safety driver.

NTSB Finds Uber At Fault

According to the safety organization, the main individual at fault was the safety driver that was behind the wheel of Uber's autonomous 2017 Volvo XC90 at the time of the accident. According to the NTSB, the safety driver was to blame, because she was supposed to "closely monitor the road and the operation of the automated driving system," but wasn't doing her job because she was looking at her phone throughout the trip.

While the NTSB has put the majority of the blame on the safety driver, the NTSB also stated that Uber carried a lot of the blame. The ride-sharing company has an "inadequate safety culture," claims the organization, that led to the fatal accident. The company's "inadequate safety risk assessment procedures, ineffective oversight of the vehicle operators and a lack of adequate mechanisms for addressing operators' automation complacency" were also at fault.

"Safety starts at the top," said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. "The collision was the last link of a long chain of actions and decisions made by an organization that unfortunately did not make safety the top priority."

Some of the NTSB's other findings paint a poor picture for Uber. The safety organization stated that Uber's autonomous system detected the pedestrian roughly 5.6 seconds before the impact. While it detected the pedestrian, the system failed to identify the object as a pedestrian and did not properly predict the pedestrian's path.

More Safety Measures To Come

The safety operator, who was looking down at her phone at the time of the incident, had enough time to react to the pedestrian crossing in front of the vehicle – if she were attentive at the time.

Uber, according to the NTSB, was capable of retroactively monitoring the behavior of its safety operators, but rarely did. If the company kept a closer eye on its safety drivers, the company would've seen that the driver in the vehicle at the time of the incident was behaving inappropriately. The company also decided to remove a second safety operator from its autonomous vehicles before the incident.

In light of its finding, the NTSB has recommended that federal regulators, mainly the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to "submit safety self-assessment plans before being allowed to begin or continue testing." The NTSB also wants the NHTSA to ensure the plans have the "appropriate safeguards" in place in a review process.

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