Remember That Self-Driving Uber Accident? We Do
The world was shocked in 2018 when an Uber self-driving test vehicle hit and killed a woman, Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street walking her bicycle. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) has reviewed the facts in the accident and recently revealed the discovery that the Uber software had innate flaws, which resulted in the untimely death of Ms. Herzberg.
As reported by Reuters, The NTSB also revealed that Uber’s autonomous test vehicles were involved in a staggering 37 crashes over 18 months – putting us all on notice to be on the alert for any Uber test vehicles operating in the Phoenix region.
When Software Goes Wrong
A vehicle that is under the control of a computer program may sound like a good idea; the vehicle is no longer subject to human error. In a perfect world, this is true, but in reality, software errors, glitches, programming errors, and other problems can make a self-driving car a danger to both pedestrians and other drivers.
The NTSB reported on several of the 37 accidents involving the Uber test vehicles, including:
- A test vehicle hit a bent bicycle lane post.
- The test vehicle required the operator taking control to avoid a head-on collision, and when doing so, struck a parked car.
- In the case of Ms. Herzberg, the test vehicle failed to identify the bicycle until 1.2 seconds before the accident – not enough time for the Uber test car to come to a stop
- 33 of the 37 accidents involved another vehicle hitting the Uber test vehicle.
Legal Issues in Autonomous Vehicle Accidents
There are several legal issues related to liability in accidents involving self-driving cars. Uber was not found criminally liable for the death of Ms. Herzberg, as it was discovered that the driver (tasked with controlling the vehicle during testing) was watching TV on her cellphone and was “visually distracted” and did not respond when the software failed. Her final glance at her phone was six seconds before the impact occurred, and her attention returned to the road ahead only one second before the impact. It has not yet been determined if the Uber driver will face criminal charges. It should be noted that the victim crossed the street outside the crosswalk.
Ensuring Safety: Who is to Blame?
It was found that Uber had inadequate safety risk assessment procedures, without a dedicated safety manager, and lacking oversight of drivers, such as monitoring cell phone use – which violated Uber’s policy for testing self-driving cars. Another factor revealed by the NTSB was that Arizona state policies failed to regulate self-driving test vehicles on public roads adequately.
Another fact that came to light was that Uber had removed a critical safety feature from the software system that could have likely prevented the death of Ms. Herzberg. It is now expected that the timeline for releasing autonomous or self-driving rideshare vehicles will require a longer runway than had been predicted. At Breyer Law Offices, P.C., we hope that state lawmakers will put regulations in place to better protect the people and that Uber and other rideshare companies take all the time needed to ensure these vehicles are safe – which could require years.
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Confidentially reviewed by Attorney Mark Breyer