Uber Manager Warned of Self-Driving Car Issues Prior to Fatal Accident

Just days before an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, a company manager allegedly sent an email to Uber executives. According to The Information, the email, written by Robbie Miller, warned of the safety concerns of the self-driving software, the “dangerous behavior” of the backup drivers, and the high rate of accidents in self-driving vehicles.

Five days after the email was sent, an Uber self-driving vehicle hit and killed a cyclist. The backup driver may have been watching The Voice, according to reports.

Police reports show that the Uber backup driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was streaming Hulu on her phone at the time of the fatal accident.

“The cars are routinely in accidents resulting in damage,” Miller wrote in the letter. “This is the result of poor behavior of the operator or the AV technology. A car was damaged nearly every other day in February. We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles. Repeated infractions for poor driving rarely results in termination. Several of the drivers appear to not have been properly vetted or trained.”

Miller’s email cited one particular incident, where a prototype car “drove on the sidewalk for several meters.” He alleges that the incident was “essentially ignored” until he brought it up.

Miller, who previously worked for Google’s Waymo, added, “At Waymo, I would not have been surprised if the entire fleet was immediately grounded for weeks or longer if a vehicle exhibited the same behavior.”

According to The Information, Uber corroborated the email’s assertions with 15 former employees and five of their current employees.

In a statement to Fortune, an Uber spokesperson said, “Right now the entire team is focused on safely and responsibly returning to the road in self-driving mode. We have every confidence in the work that the team is doing to get us there.”

After that fatal accident, Uber temporarily stopped testing its self-driving vehicles on public roads. The company resumed testing in Pittsburgh in June and implemented new safety protocols. The Tempe accident, according to Uber, may have been due to improperly tuned software used to determine safety hazards.

IHS Automotive projects that there will be as many as 54 million self-driving cars on the road by 2035. Waymo recently launched the first commercial robotaxi service in Arizona. Uber had originally planned to launch its self-driving fleet in Arizona sooner, but those plans were delayed after the fatal accident.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.