Home Economy Driver in Arizona fatal accident mainly to blame, NTSB report finds

Driver in Arizona fatal accident mainly to blame, NTSB report finds



A Uber self-drive car met and killed in Tempe a woman in 2018.
Nicole Schaub, Arizona Republic

The main reason for the accident was Uber's self-driving operator who hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe last year because she was watching "The Voice" on her phone instead of the road.

This is the result of the National Transport Safety Board, although the federal agency identified a number of other contributory reasons in its final report submitted Tuesday.

This is the first such declaration by any official entity regarding the cause of the accident. The board also new and proposed federal requirements to test autonomous cars on public roads.

Outside the driver, the board found the fault enough to go around the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving car. Officials asked Uber's lax safety culture, the pedestrian was high on methamphetamine, and a lack of Arizona's safety requirement for the cars.

But the car itself was not completely autonomous. It was a test vehicle intended to be monitored by the operator, tmuch blamed her.

“This is not a self-driving vehicle. We are not yet there, ”said the Chairman of the NTSB, Robert Sumwalt, at a meeting in Washington, D.C., to determine the probable cause of the accident. "The vehicle operator was not caring at the time of the accident."

The accident occurred in March 2018 when Elaine Herzberg, 49 years old, was crossing Mill Avenue and hit Volvo who was driving autonomously owned by Uber. Behind the wheel Rafaela Vasquez was 44 years old, the police decided to watch TV on her phone.

However, many things went wrong, got the NTSB. Those who had failed Uber to register cars to move people to predict walking, and decisions of the company to turn off the Volvo emergency brakes and stop their own system before the emergency ban.

Criminal charges are still feasible

Ultimately, the NTSB sanctioned a probable cause for the accident which primarily blamed Vasquez, which could address manslaughter charges in Maricopa County.

"Our case is currently under review by our office," said Jennifer Liewer, communications director for Maricopa County Solicitor's Office. "We are considering all the relevant results and information related to the accident, including the results of the NTSB."


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An NTSB analyst and decisions about probable cause cannot be entered as evidence in a court of law, according to the federal agency. This is to help ensure that its investigations focus only on improving transport safety.

Uber's risk assessment of "inadequate" played an important role in not monitoring drivers also in the death, NTSB decided.

The NTSB also decided that Herzberg was high on methamphetamine and crossed an intersection outside a crossing with the crash, as did the Arizona Transportation Department of "insufficient supervision of automated vehicle testing."

Arizona takes some blame

Tuesday's focus was on Arizona's role in the reception of self-driving vehicles and lax regulation.

"There are some testing policies at Arizona, by executive order, and a few other tests without a driver, but no testing with a person inside the vehicle," said Ensar Becic, project manager and human performance investigator in the Highway Safety Office at the National Transport Safety Board.

Issued Gov. Du Duyy, an executive order in 2015, cleared the way for self-driving tests in Arizona, and allowed the Department of State to create rules for the industry.


The Department of Transport only requires self-driving companies to notify the agency that they are testing, and to follow motor vehicle laws.

Ducey held a press conference in December 2016 when Uber brought his self-driving vehicles to Arizona from California after a regulatory dispute.

Ducey issued a second executive order just weeks before the fatal crash, and requires companies testing cars that have no operator behind the wheel to make sure that cars can stop safely if they have a problem.

As Carban had an operator in the car during the fatal accident, the company was not involved in this car.

NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy said that the federal government and the state are failing to set safety standards for self-driving tests.

"I feel there is a major failure on the part of the federal government and the state of Arizona because they had no standards in place and not," Homendy said. "We need some leadership at the federal level and we need some leadership at the state level."

Ducey spokesman, Patrick Ptak, issued a statement after the NTSB meeting which highlighted the fact that, following the fatal accident, Ducey led the company to stop the test here. Uber had stopped running self-driving cars in Arizona before that direction.

“It is hoped that the safety of Arizona will continue to embrace innovation and initiatives to tackle traffic-related accidents,” said Ptak.

"With safety as our top priority, we will continue to work with the first responders, local and federal government partners, industry experts and the private sector to ensure that Arizona is taking all appropriate action to test safe testing of self-technology. T in the state.

Many changes in Uber from the accident

The NTSB discussed many of the improvements made by the Uber Advanced Technologies Group in its self-driving tests since the accident.

The company does not test in Arizona anymore, but has a test program in Pittsburgh where the cars are limited to 25 miles per hour and the Volvo emergency braking system is trapped while running independently.

Experts said before the board to discuss the accident, the company said it is fully committed to working with federal officials to boost safety.

"I appreciate how Uber was a good partner," Sumwalt said.

Nat Beuse, Uber ATG safety head, said in a statement prepared Tuesday that the company is deeply regretted.

"In the last 20 months, we have given the NTSB full access to information about our technology and the developments we have made since the accident," he said.

"While we are proud of the progress we have made, we will not lose sight of what has brought us here or our responsibility to continue to raise the bar on safety.

Recommendations include new rules

Six recommendations were also approved by the NTSB following the investigation.

  • The National Road Safety Administration requires companies testing self-driving cars on public roads to submit a self-assessment to the agency.
  • That the NHTSA develops a means of evaluating these self-assessment reports to determine whether the companies have adequate safeguards, including how they monitor operators.
  • The Arizona state requires companies to apply to test self-driving cars which details at least plans to manage the risks of crashes and driver disregards, and to set countermeasures for crashes.
  • That the state establish a group of expert tasks to assess these applications before they are granted.
  • That the American Motor Vehicle Administrators Association inform other states of the details of the Tempe crash to encourage them to apply for similar tests.
  • Uber completes a safety management system for self-driving tests, which the company has stopped in Arizona but continues in Pittsburgh.

The NTSB has no regulatory or enforcement powers.

Officials said that there is a long way to progress in the self-drive car industry before reaching the safer roads commitment.

"Ultimately, it is the public who accept or reject automated automatic driving systems, and test those systems on public roads," Sumwalt said.

"Any company accident goes into public confidence. Accident is everyone causing a disaster. Similarly, successful safety measures required throughout the industry can boost public confidence, public safety and the future of the industry. "


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Reporter Reach Ryan Randazzo by ryan.randazzo@ arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.

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