NTSB: Backup Brakes Off in Self-Driving Collision With Pedestrian

In this Dec. 13, 2016 photo, an Uber driverless car heads out for a test drive in San Francisco. Police in the city of Tempe said Monday, March 19, 2018, that the vehicle was in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel when the woman walking outside of a crosswalk was hit. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg,File)

(CN) – An Uber self-driving test car that fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this year was equipped with radar and navigation sensors, but emergency brakes that would have kicked on before the collision were turned off, a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board revealed Thursday.

The car’s sensors did pick up the 49-year-old woman, identified by police as Elaine Herzberg, as she crossed the road in front of the car, but the computer system classified her as an “unknown object” or vehicle and then a bicycle. Less than two seconds before the collision, the system determined that emergency braking was needed but the feature is turned off when the car is in under computer control per Uber’s policy.

The Volvo was traveling at 39 mph when it struck and killed Herzberg at 9:58 p.m., according to the preliminary report that is part of the ongoing investigation.

A human vehicle operator, was also in the modified 2017 Volvo XC90 at the time of the collision. The operator used the steering wheel less than a second before impact and applied the brakes less than a second after that.

Six seconds before the vehicle struck Herzberg, the light detection and ranging sensor and radar registered the pedestrian. Several cameras on the car captured the collision, and all were reviewed by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Herzberg was wearing dark clothing as she walked her bicycle east across the road. She was hit while in the right lane and signs at the brick median where she crossed warn pedestrians to use the crosswalk, about 360 feet north of the collision.

According to toxicology results, Herzberg tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana.

The NTSB’s preliminary report does not contain probable cause currently. They are working with Uber, Volvo and the Arizona Department of Transportation as part of the investigation.

In a statement, Uber said over the last two months they’ve worked with the NTSB investigation and started their own safety review of the self-driving vehicles program.

“We’ve also brought on former NTSB chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture, and we look forward to sharing more on the changes we’ll make in the coming weeks,” the company said.

Uber shut down the program this week but said it will eventually be revived, but not until Uber receives proper testing and more input on safety improvements.

Multiple news outlets also reported the San Francisco-based tech company has reached a settlement with Herzberg’s family.


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