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NTSB Sheds New Light on Self-Driving Uber's Fatal Pedestrian Collision

uber self-driving volvo xc90 in san francisco

the national transportation safety bureau today released a preliminary report of its investigation into the fatal crash in arizona involving a self-driving uber suv and a pedestrian. and while the agency stresses that this report is preliminary and does not assign fault to any involved party, it's clear that there's plenty of blame to go around. uber is not taking it lightly; according to reuters, the ride-sharing company announced yesterday that it's shutting down self-driving car tests in arizona.

according to the report, several factors contributed to the crash, including the vehicle's equipment and the test driver's reaction, as well as the path and condition of the pedestrian.

the test vehicle was a 2017 volvo xc90 modified with a self-driving system that consisted of forward- and side-facing cameras, radars, lidar, navigation sensors, and a computing and data storage unit. at the time of the crash, the suv was operating in computer control mode with a hands-off vehicle operator monitoring the system.

according to ntsb, the vehicle registered the presence of a pedestrian about 6 seconds before impact, and the self-driving operator engaged the steering wheel less than a second before the fatal impact. the operator first hit the brakes less than a second after impact.

the test xc90 was equipped with volvo's city safety automatic emergency braking system. why didn't it prevent or at least mitigate the crash? the report surmised that all of these functions are disabled when the test vehicle is operated in computer control but are operational when the vehicle is operated in manual mode.

"according to uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior," the ntsb report stated. "the vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. the system is not designed to alert the operator."

the 49-year-old pedestrian's actions also set a dangerous scene. the vehicle's video showed that she was not looking at the suv until just before impact. it also showed she was dressed in dark clothing, that the bicycle did not have any side reflectors and that she crossed the street outside of the crosswalk in a dark section of roadway.

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lastly, it appears drugs were also a factor. according to police in tempe, ariz., the pedestrian's toxicology tests were positive for methamphetamine and marijuana. the vehicle operator showed no signs of impairment at the time of the crash, police stated.

immediately after the crash, uber suspended all self-driving tests throughout the u.s., and it's unclear when, where or even if the program will resume. an uber spokeswoman told reuters that the company's arizona self-driving volvo suvs will be moved to other cities, and employees will be offered assistance in finding another job. the company has also hired former ntsb chair christopher hart to help review its autonomous car program with a focus on safety.

"we're committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future," the spokeswoman said.

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