Emergency Braking Was Disabled On Self-Driving Uber Fatality

Thu 24th May 2018

An investigation into the crash which saw a self-driving Uber vehicle hit and kill a female pedestrian in the United States has found that the vehicle’s emergency brakes were disabled.

The report, into the accident which happened in Arizona in March, has revealed that the vehicle’s guidance system had spotted the woman about six seconds before hitting her, but the emergency braking system did not engage, as it had been turned off to ‘reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behaviour”.

The technology behind the self-driving Uber had anticipated that the human back-up driver would intervene, according to the report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board. However, the automated system was not designed to alert the driver of the impending danger.

Uber have subsequently pulled out of testing the driverless cars in Arizona, and Carl Tobias, a liability expert at the University of Richmond school of law, believes the report is a blow to the confidence of the automated technology in the US.

Speaking in the Guardian, Tobias said: “It sounds like Uber is trying to work with the NTSB to move forward but this is a substantial setback. States are going to have to be extremely careful how they set up and regulate these programs.

“We can’t have 50 different regimes and we may need some more systematic way to experiment with the technology without risking injuries and deaths. The states are going to need to protect people, and I don’t think we’re set up to do that yet. The question is how?”

Further details of the incident were revealed by the NTSB report. The car was travelling at 43 miles per hour and its sensors assesed that braking was needed 1.3 seconds before impact. The driver of the vehicle took control of steering less than a second before striking 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.