Uber Reportedly Knows Why Its Self-Driving Tech Didn’t Prevent the Deadly Arizona Pedestrian Crash

May 8, 2018, 9:37 AM UTC

When an Uber car in self-driving mode struck and killed Arizona pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in March, what caused the accident? According to a new report, Uber now thinks it was a fault in the software its cars use to decide whether or not to avoid objects in their path.

The Information reported Monday evening that the car’s self-driving system detected the person and her bicycle in its path but decided that “it didn’t need to react right away.”

The issue seems to have been one of tuning. The car’s cameras will regularly see objects in front of the car, but it must constantly decide whether or not the object requires sudden action. After all, you don’t want the car swerving because of something inconsequential lying on or floating over the road.

The Uber executives who spoke to The Information indicated that the car’s self-driving system was overly inclined to dismiss objects in its path, leading to Herzberg’s death.

Uber told TechCrunch that it couldn’t “comment on the specifics of the incident” as it is currently cooperating with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on its investigation into the incident.

“In the meantime, we have initiated a top-to-bottom safety review of our self-driving vehicles program, and we have brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture,” the company said. “Our review is looking at everything from the safety of our system to our training processes for vehicle operators, and we hope to have more to say soon.”

Uber isn’t the only company in this field to have seen such an accident in recent months. Within days of the Uber incident, a Tesla Model X driver died near San Francisco when his car crashed into a divider.

Following that incident, Tesla publicly said the driver was at fault because he knew Tesla’s Autopilot system was imperfect and particularly unreliable at that location, yet he relied on it there anyway.

The NTSB had warned Tesla (TSLA) not to make statements about the cause of the crash, and when chairman Robert Sumwalt called Tesla CEO Elon Musk to inform his that the agency was removing Tesla from the investigation, Musk hung up on him.

Correction: This story originally referred to Uber’s self-driving technology as Autopilot. Autopilot is a marketing name used by Tesla for its driver assistance systems.