Uber self-drive crash that killed pedestrian blamed on back-up driver

20 November 2019, 09:05 | Updated: 20 November 2019, 11:08

A US safety agency report on a self-drive car that killed a pedestrian, has blamed a poor safety culture at Uber and the vehicle's back-up driver.

The accident that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking a bicycle across a street at night in March last year, was the first fatal crash to involve a self-driving car.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the collision in Arizona was likely the result of the safety driver failing to monitor the driving environment "because she was visually distracted throughout the trip by her personal cell phone".

It also cited inadequate attention to safety and decisions in Uber's autonomous vehicle development and made a series of recommendations to bolster oversight of the sector.

NTSB chairman, Robert Sumwalt, said: "The collision was the last link of a long chain of actions and decisions made by an organisation that unfortunately did not make safety the top priority."

The inquiry noted a series of development decisions that contributed to the cause of the crash, including Uber's deactivation of the Volvo XC90's automatic emergency braking systems.

Volvo found in 17 of 20 simulation tests the crash was avoided, the NTSB said.

Nat Beuse, head of safety for autonomous vehicles at Uber, said in response that the company remained "committed to improving the safety of our self-driving programme," building on earlier improvements.

The NTSB urged US states to do more to oversee the vehicles and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to determine if safety assessments meet the necessary standards.

The NHTSA is investigating the Uber crash in its own right while the back-up driver remains the subject of a police inquiry.

However, the company is not facing criminal charges as prosecutors decided it was not liable.

Uber reached a civil settlement with Ms Herzberg's family several weeks after the accident.

Its driverless car programme, which was suspended in the wake of the crash, resumed last December.