NTSB Investigation Into Fatal Autonomous Uber Accident Finds Guidance Software Flaws

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A National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report outlines findings in its investigation into a fatal accident with an Uber autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian. As part of its investigation, the NTSB disclosed that Uber's vehicles had been involved in 37 crashes over the prior 18 months. With the investigation complete, the NTSB could use its findings in the Uber AV investigation, which is the first fatal self-driving car accident, to make recommendations that could impact the entire self-driving vehicle industry.

A meeting is scheduled for November 19th to determine the probable cause of the March 2018 accident that happened in Tempe, Arizona. That accident resulted in the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking her bicycle across the road at night. A report released ahead of that meeting shows that the NTSB has stated that the Uber vehicle had failed to correctly identify the woman as a pedestrian crossing the street. “The system design did not include a consideration for jaywalking pedestrians,” wrote the NTSB. There was also a one-second delay before the system applied the brakes, as it plotted a course "around" the pedestrian. However, the system wasn't completely at fault. The human safety driver was watching an episode of "The Voice" on the vehicle's central display screen and was not paying attention the road.

After the fatal accident, Uber suspended all testing and didn't resume operations until December in Pennsylvania. When testing did resume, the vehicles used revised software and had new restrictions and safeguards in place. Uber has stated that it regretted the crash that killed Herzberg. The company also noted that it had adopted improvements to prioritize safety, and says that it valued the thoroughness of the NTSB investigation.

Of the 37 crashes that Uber autonomous vehicles had been involved in that were cited by the NTSB, 33 of those accidents involved another vehicle striking the Uber test vehicles. In at least two crashes, the NTSB report found that Uber AVs may not have properly identified road hazards. In one of the other accidents, the AV struck and bent a bicycle lane post that was partially in the lane of travel for the vehicle. Another accident resulted when a vehicle entered the AVs lane of travel, and the vehicle operator took control to steer away and struck a parked car.