Feds to investigate fatal Uber self-driving car crash

March 20, 2018

Both the NTSB and the NHTSA will investigate the fatal crash between a self-driving Uber experimental vehicle and a pedestrian walking a bicycle in Tempe, Arizona.

In a statement, the NHTSA said that it is "in contact with Uber, Volvo, federal, state and local authorities regarding the incident."

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The NHTSA said it will investigate the vehicle itself, particularly the sensors and computers Uber fitted to it.

The NTSB said it will investigate "the vehicle’s interaction with the environment, other vehicles and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.”

The Volvo XC90 crossover test vehicle was fitted with Uber-developed autonomous software and hardware designed to detect and avoid impacts and to accelerate, brake, and steer on its own. In Arizona, a human backup driver isn't required for self-driving test cars, although there was one in the XC90 that collided with 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. The victim was transported from the crash site near the Arizona State University campus to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

In a news conference held by the Tempe Police Department on Monday, investigators said that they believe the XC90 had reached a speed of 40 mph when it struck Herzberg while she was walking her bicycle on a street. It's not believed that the Uber test vehicle slowed down before hitting the pedestrian. Weather is not a likely factor, although the incident occurred at about 10 p.m., well after sunset.

Arizona has been a prime proving ground for self-driving cars for several years. In 2015, the state created specific zones for self-driving car development on rural and suburban streets. Earlier this month, Arizona governor Doug Ducey updated an executive order to allow for unmanned self-driving car testing.

Uber says that it has suspended all self-driving car tests, including those in other cities from Toronto to San Francisco, while it investigates what went wrong in Tempe.

California has not said whether the fatal incident in Tempe will affect its plans to allow unmanned self-driving cars to begin tests as early as next month. In California, self-driving cars must have a remote backup driver that essentially turns them into drones for the street.

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