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Were Uber’s Safety Policies to Blame for a Fatal Crash?

Written by Ankin Law Office

Uber’s safety policies may have contributed to a fatal pedestrian accident that occurred in 2018 when an on-board operator failed to properly monitor the system.

Are Uber Self-Driving Vehicles Safe?

Uber, a leading participant in manufacturing self-driving vehicles, has been testing autonomous technology in Arizona for more than a decade. Recently, Uber pledged to make safety information regarding its self-driving cars more visible to the public after the company’s safety policies were partially blamed for a fatal pedestrian crash in Tempe, Arizona.

The Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a 49-year-old female pedestrian. This marked the first fatal pedestrian accident involving an autonomous vehicle. A video camera installed in the vehicle showed that the pedestrian was hit by a 2017 Volvo XC90 SUV operated autonomously by Uber. The vehicle was in self-drive mode with a safety operator behind the wheel, a requirement under current testing laws.

Further investigation by the National Traffic Safety Board (NTSB) showed  Uber’s self-driving technology lacked the ability to distinguish an object as a pedestrian, unless the object was in a crosswalk. The vehicle’s video camera showed the safety operator was distracted by her cell phone and a live streaming broadcast, so she was not properly monitoring the vehicle’s movements. As a result, she failed to manually apply the brakes in time to prevent the fatal crash.

In 2019, the NTSB concluded that the probable cause of the fatal 2018 crash was the failure of the vehicle’s safety operator to monitor the surrounding environment and the vehicle’s automated driving system due to personal distractions. NTSB also cited Uber for inadequate safety risk assessment procedures, lack of adequate procedures to address complacency by operators during self-driving mode, and inadequate safety provisions for Uber passengers.

In August, 2020, Uber pledged to update its voluntary safety assessment procedures with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Uber pledged to release details on safety enhancements of their safety case framework, new safety management procedures, and the establishment of an independent Safety and Responsibility Advisory Board.

Self-driving vehicles raise many questions about driver safety and accident liability. Chicago Uber accident lawyers handle many lawsuits filed against Uber for passenger injuries, and Uber has numerous complaints related to safety technology concerns. National safety studies show that over half of American drivers say they would not buy a self-driving vehicle without further safety testing so drivers are properly protected against injuries in self-driving mode.