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Has Uber Improved Safety Enough to Restart Self-Driving Vehicle Tests?

With major auto manufacturers developing self-driving vehicles, the future of the automotive industry is looking far more automated. However, as the rush to make these vehicles available to consumers builds, safety concerns are coming into focus. An Uber autonomous vehicle was involved in a fatal crash. This incident brought the transportation giant’s self-driving vehicle testing to a halt for most of 2018. Uber has resumed testing of its autonomous vehicles on public roads.

How Did the Fatal Self-Driving Vehicle Crash Occur?

In Tempe, Arizona, an Uber autonomous vehicle collided with a pedestrian as she walked her bike across the street. The pedestrian didn’t survive the crash, and Uber immediately halted all testing of its self-driving vehicle fleet nationwide. This incident marks the first time anyone has died due to an autonomous vehicle crash—though there have been at least two fatal crashes linked to Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot Mode.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reported that the vehicle’s self-driving system detected the pedestrian a full six seconds before the fatal crash. However, the system could not identify the object it had detected and failed to take collision prevention measures until 1.3 seconds before impact. According to police, the backup driver for the vehicle was streaming television on a mobile phone just seconds before the crash. This prevented the driver from stepping in when the vehicle failed to react to the pedestrian. Authorities ruled the crash “entirely avoidable,” sending shockwaves through the autonomous vehicle industry.

The family of the victim in this fatal crash filed a lawsuit against Uber not long after the incident. The company quickly settled the suit. This is a common procedure among autonomous vehicle developers when injured parties file lawsuits after self-driving vehicle crashes. The industry is trying to avoid regulation from government officials, making them more inclined to settle before a judge or jury can rule on their negligence.

Should Uber Be Allowed to Restart Autonomous Vehicle Testing?

Since the incident, Uber has cooperated with investigators and restructured its safety measures for autonomous vehicle testing. In a letter to the NTSB, the company reported that there will be two backup-drivers in its test vehicles from now on. These employees will be monitored during testing by third-party systems. Previously, the company deactivated the autonomous braking feature on the Lexus SUVs used for testing. Now, the built-in emergency braking system will remain activated during testing. Uber also redesigned its self-driving software to identify objects faster and has now programmed the system to respond even if it has not identified an object. The company also notified the NTSB that it would soon be resuming its nationwide testing of self-driving vehicles.

Are you prepared for the return of Uber’s autonomous vehicles? Do you think there are any other safety measures the company should be taking? Do you think other self-driving vehicle developers are taking the proper safety measures? Let us know what you think on our Twitter and Facebook pages. You can also contact our offices at (414)856-4010 with any questions you have about any incidents you have had with self-driving vehicles.


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