On November 20, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its findings on the fatal 2018 Uber crash in Tempe, Arizona, which is widely believed to be the world’s first self-driving car fatality,media reported.
But instead of punishing Uber’s self-driving cars, investigators highlighted many of the mistakes that led to the death of 49-year-old woman Elaine Herzberg. They also warned that this could happen again.
“If your company tests self-driving systems on public roads, it’s your responsibility to do this,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said in his opening remarks at yesterday’s hearing.
When the commission released its findings on the possible cause of the accident in Tempe, the first person to be blamed was apparently Rafaela Vasquez, the safety driver who was in the car at the time of the accident. Vasquez, who has never been named, should have prevented the accident as a safety supervisor for the self-driving system.
Vasquez reportedly watched Voice on her phone minutes before the crash, in violation of Uber’s policy of banning mobile phones. In fact, investigators concluded that she had been looking down at her cell phone in her car for more than 1/E before the crash.
While Vasquez’s distraction from playing with his phone was the main cause of the crash, the NTSB attributed Herzberg’s death to Uber, an employer whose safety culture was seriously inadequate. Similarly, the federal government is partly responsible for failing to better regulate the operation of self-driving cars.
“It seems to me that they put technological advances before saving lives,” said Jennifer Homendy, a board member with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
At the time of the accident, Uber’s Advanced Technology Group (ATG) had not identified the individual roles and safety management responsibilities of employees, said Michael Fox, NTSB’s senior highway accident investigator. In addition, the company lacks a security department and does not have a security manager dedicated to risk assessment and risk mitigation. In addition, in the weeks leading up to the accident, Uber made a major decision to reduce the number of safe drivers per vehicle from two to one.
Ceo Dara Khosrowshahi is considering closing the division due to rising research and development costs at ATG, which led them to take the wrong shortcut.
But NTSB members left their harshest criticism to the federal government. Homendy accused NHTSA of putting technological advances ahead of saving lives, calling the agency’s voluntary guidance “ridiculous.”
Voluntary safety guidelines were first developed under President Obama, who feared that restrictions on testing of self-driving cars could stifle innovation. Now, under President Trump, the rules have become more lenient. The Trump administration has eliminated an all-star Federal Auto Automation Commission that would have provided “critical resources” for the Department of Transportation. There have also been recent reports that Mr. Trump cut the committee even without informing some of its members.
So far, only 16 companies have submitted voluntary safety reports to NHTSA, many of them for marketing purposes, said Ensar Becic, project manager and human performance investigator at the Office of Highway Safety.