Uber Was Reportedly Told Its Self-Driving Cars Were Unsafe Before Fatal Crash

Dec 13, 2018

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Days before an Uber self-driving car was involved in a fatal accident that killed one pedestrian, an employee with the ride-hailing company warned his bosses that the cars were repeatedly involved in multiple crashes.

Robbie Miller, operations manager for Uber’s self-driving trucks, emailed top executives at Uber saying the vehicles were “routinely in accidents,” according to a report from the BBC. Miller’s email attributed the widespread accidents in part to poor technology and the “poor behaviour” of the cars’ backup safety operators. He also states in the email that those backup drivers were not “properly vetted or trained.”

“A car was damaged nearly every other day in February,” Miller’s email said. “We shouldn’t be hitting things every 15,000 miles.”

The email was sent on March 13, just six days before a pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was struck and killed by the car as she crossed the street outside of a crosswalk at night in Tempe, Arizona. Components of the crash seem to mirror what Miller warned about in his email. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the crash. But, preliminary reports have shown that a malfunction in the car’s sensors and software did not detect Herzberg as she crossed the street. Also, the backup safety operator of the vehicle, Rafaela Vasquez, was streaming a television show on a tablet device while driving.

The email was reportedly sent to Uber’s head of autonomous vehicles, Eric Meyhofer, as well as six other executives and lawyers, the BBC says. Uber says Miller’s manager responded with an email stating that the company’s leadership would look in the claims. The company also says it included the concerns from the email in a safety review after the Arizona crash occurred.

“Right now the entire team is focused on safely and responsibly returning to the road in self-driving mode,” an Uber spokesperson told TPG in an emailed statement. “We have every confidence in the work that the team is doing to get us there. Our team remains committed to implementing key safety improvements, and we intend to resume on-the-road self-driving testing only when these improvements have been implemented and we have received authorization from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.”

Uber suspended its self-driving vehicle test operations in the wake of the accident.

Featured image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

*This post has been updated with Uber’s statement to TPG.

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