Federal Investigators Say Uber Chose to Disable Emergency Braking System Before Fatal Arizona Pedestrian Accident
The automated emergency braking system on an Uber robot test car was disabled when the vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, back in March, federal investigators said. According to a news report in the Los Angeles Times, the car’s sensor system was operating normally and a test driver was behind the wheel. But, investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board said neither the human driver nor the computer system braked the car before the collision. This preliminary finding by the NTSB raises serious questions and concerns about the state of driverless technology as more automakers and tech companies put more of these vehicles on our roadways.
Not Ready for Primetime
NTSB’s report said the brakes were not applied before the fatal crash because Uber had chosen to disable the system, expecting the test driver to take control of the vehicle if something went wrong. The vehicle’s Dashcam video showed the driver applying the brakes only after the woman had been struck at 39 mph. The woman, 49-year-old Elaine Hertzberg, was walking across the street pushing a bicycle. Officials said an attentive driver would have noticed her on the roadway, but a driverless car apparently did not.
This failure to brake for a pedestrian is further evidence that driverless technology still has a long way to go. In the case of this Uber driverless vehicle, the system first identified the woman as a vehicle and later as a bicycle, but not as a pedestrian. Driverless systems make calls on direction and speed based on whether an object is a car, pedestrian, bicycle or something else.
Glitches Should Be Ironed Out
This fatal accident is further proof that more accurate classifications are crucial for the vehicle or robot to make the correct judgment in a real-life scenario. Uber has shut down its driverless car programs in Arizona and hit the pause button on other similar programs in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. However, it is planning to continue operations soon and it is not clear how much of these serious safety issues the company has addressed before deciding to put its driverless cars back on the road. Uber is not the only one in trouble. Tesla is in the midst of numerous accident investigations involving its semi-autonomous Autopilot feature.
Our auto defect lawyers are all for groundbreaking technology. But, these cars should not be testing on a public roadway until these basic glitches have been ironed out. A driverless car that cannot clearly distinguish between a stationary object, a vehicle and a human being should not be out on a public roadway. It’s simply not ready to be there. Human lives are a very steep and unacceptable price to pay to this new technology.