Self-driving Uber Crash: More Details Released

In March, a self-driving Uber car in Arizona fatally killed a woman crossing a darkened road outside the lines of a crosswalk when it failed to stop in time. This was the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle. The pedestrian was later identified as Elaine Herzberg. Uber has recently released more details regarding the accident.

According to USA Today, “Uber’s self-driving car system detected an Arizona pedestrian about six seconds before the vehicle it was in killed the woman in March. But the system never took action to prevent the incident, according to the preliminary results of a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation.”

The NTSB reported that Uber’s system was operating “normally” with “no faults or diagnostic messages.” According to USA Today, had the emergency braking system been activated, it would have been triggered 1.3 seconds before the car hit the pedestrian.

According to Uber, their engineers had intentionally disabled the emergency braking system in the self-driving Volvo to reportedly “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” The system was not programmed to alert the human operator to brake the vehicle manually.

Videos released of the accident show the vehicle’s operator looking down at times. Original reports stated that she was “monitoring the self-driving interface and that while her personal and business phones were in the vehicle, neither were in use until after the crash.”

Later reports, however, have released video of the driver stating that she was watching “The Voice.” According to a 300-page report released Thursday night by Tempe police, the back-up driver identified as Rafaela Vasquez had been streaming the television show via Hulu in the time leading up to the crash.

The report, released by Time, said that the crash wouldn’t have happened had the driver not been distracted.

Dash camera video shows Vasquez looking down for up to five seconds before the crash. A half a second before striking Herzberg, she looked up. At that time, the Volvo was traveling at a rate of speed approximately 44 miles per hour.

Vasquez said that Herzberg “came out of nowhere” and that she didn’t see her prior to the collision. However, officers calculated that Vasquez could have reacted 143 feet before impact and stopped the vehicle approximately 42 feet before a collision would have happened.

According to Parrish Law Firm, it often only takes a second of driver distraction to leave a pedestrian with a serious or life-threatening injury. Unfortunately, in this case the result was fatal.

“This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted,” the report said.

Vasquez is facing a vehicular manslaughter charge in the crash, according to a March 19th affidavit filed to get a search warrant for audio, video, and data stored in the Uber vehicle. Detective J. Barutha is heading the investigation.

Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona the day before the NTSB report was released.

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.