On March 18, 2018, a self-driving Uber car in Tempe, Arizona hit a pedestrian walking her bicycle outside of an allocated crosswalk at night.  The pedestrian  died. It was recently revealed by a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report that this fatal collision was due to a software flaw in Uber’s automated vehicles; the technology of these test vehicles did not have the ability to anticipate or detect jaywalking pedestrians.

This crash was one of the 37 other crashes involving autonomous vehicles over a prior 18 month period. A few of these collisions were due to the autonomous cars not detecting an object in their lane of travel. To avoid any further fatalities, and after a thorough NTSB investigation, Uber suspended all of their autonomous test vehicles until December 2018 when it implemented  software with greater safeguards against collisions. The software revisions allow the vehicles to detect pedestrians 88 meters or 4.5 seconds before impact, allowing the car to brake 4 seconds before potential impact. This compares to the 1.2 second braking time before impact associated with the fatal crash of 2018.

In the fatal crash that occurred in Tempe, prosecutors did not find Uber to be criminally liable in the autonomous vehicle crash. A human driver behind the wheel of the vehicle was supposed to take control in the event of an emergency, but failed to do so as the driver was watching a TV show at the time.  The driver is now facing criminal charges.

The courts and regulators continue to unpack more and more considerations to assess both criminal and civil liability when accidents occur involving autonomous cars. Though Uber was not found liable criminally in this instance, many questions remain as to the responsibility of the software developer in the event of injury caused by self-driving cars.

Summary By: Juliette Sakran


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