Before the accident with a self-driving Uber car that took an Arizona woman’s life, the robotic vehicle project from the ride service was having plenty of problems. Uber’s self-driving vehicles were struggling with driving by tall vehicles, like big trucks, and going through construction areas. The human drivers also had to intervene far more often than the drivers of other autonomous car projects.
As reported by the New York Times, Google’s self-driving car project Waymo said its cars went close to 5,600 miles on average during its California road tests before a human driver had to take over steering. Another project, Cruise, has reported its cars have gone over 1,200 miles without the need for human intervention. Uber, on the other hand, was reportedly having trouble meeting its 13-miles-per-intervention target in its Arizona road tests. Despite this problem, the test drivers at Uber were being asked to go on more solo runs instead of working in pairs.
The crash in Tempe, Arizona, is a serious setback for the driving service, which has been working on boosting its image since a messy leadership transition last August. This incident is also reportedly the first pedestrian death associated with a self-driving vehicle, and Uber has since stopped its other self-driving car tests in Toronto, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Arizona.
Currently, the Tempe crash is being investigated by local law enforcement, who say that whether the car was at fault has not yet been determined. It was an SUV that struck Elaine Herzberg while it was driving at 40 miles per hour in an area with a speed limit of 45 miles per hour. Police say the car, which was operating in autonomous mode and had a safety driver, did not slow down before the crash occurred. This Uber vehicle had a dashboard camera, and the footage shows the safety driver looking down at the time of the crash, away from the road. It also appears the driver did not have his hands above the steering wheel, which is what drivers are supposed to do so they can quickly regain control over the car if necessary.
The human drivers in the Uber project had expressed concern about going from driving in pairs to solo, as the second person would keep an eye on what the car’s computers were sensing. In addition, not all of the drivers are following their training. One was fired after dozing off at the wheel, and another was seen “air drumming” as the autonomous car he was in passed through an intersection.
Uber was planning to get regulatory approval to start a self-driving car service in Arizona in December, but after this accident, it’s unclear whether the company will proceed with those plans.
As the technology in cars advances, there will be room for new types of accidents, unfortunately. A car accident can have a serious physical, emotional and financial impact on its victim, so if you’ve been in a crash, speak to an experienced lawyer, like an auto accident attorney Denver CO turns to time and time again.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from The Law Office of Richard J. Banta, P.C. for their insight into