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Uber Accident Leads to More Concerns About Autonomous Tech

POSTED BY Jon Corra . June 01, 2018

The popularity of peer to peer ridesharing has increased exponentially over the past several years. Services like Uber and Lyft have their share of fans, but they also have a long list of detractors.

According to personal injury lawyers, several personal injuries like sexual harassment, protests by traditional taxi drivers, or their radical price surging,  are hiking with the use of Uber, in particular, has frequently found themselves in trouble lately.

At their core, Uber is actually a technology company, and they are looking at making changes to the ways that their vehicles operate. Since 2015, Uber has worked on a program to incorporate autonomous vehicles into their fleet.

According to the Pittsburgh Business Times, the first vehicles used for research were seen in May of 2015. While working with Carnegie Melon, Uber Advance technologies created a fleet of “research” Ford Fusions to be used in the city of Pittsburgh.

These vehicles were primarily used for mapping services at the time. By September of 2016, Uber unveiled their first autonomous vehicles for use by the public.

These vehicles were used in the city of Pittsburgh, and they were equipped with “safety drivers.” A safety driver, according to Uber, is in place to take control of the vehicle in emergency situations.

According to WTAE-TV, there are 20 cameras, seven lasers, and three inertial measurement units used by the autonomous vehicles.

By the end of 2016, Uber expanded their autonomous fleet to cities in California and Arizona. They also added a new vehicle: the Volvo XC90. The XC90 is an SUV, as opposed to the Fusion, which is a sedan.

By March of 2017, Uber had their first real public issue with their autonomous cars when one was involved in an accident with another car. In this case, the police investigated the accident and found the sovereign driver was at fault because the non-Uber driver ran a stop sign, then struck the autonomous Uber vehicle.

The impact left the Uber vehicle disabled and it toppled onto its right side. At the time, Uber decided to place the autonomous car program on hiatus so they could determine what caused the accident. After finding that the accident was not the fault of their car, they reinstated the autonomous program.

A year later, in March of 2018, Uber had to halt the program once again. This time, a life was lost after an accident involving an autonomous Uber is Tempe, Arizona. According to multiple reports, a pedestrian was struck by an autonomous Uber while crossing a road at night. According to Tempe Police:

  • 49-year old Elain Herzberg was killed when the vehicle struck her
  • the vehicle was traveling near 40 MPH
  • the pedestrian was not in a designated crosswalk area
  • there was a driver behind the wheel of the autonomous Uber, but the vehicle was in the autonomous mode

After the accident, Uber halted the program until further investigations can be conducted. In addition to the Tempe Police department, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating the accident.

While this case is still in the early stages, many have made statements about who may be at fault in this accident. For instance, since the pedestrian was not in a designated crosswalk, many are arguing that she may be at fault.

Others are wondering why the car’s sensors didn’t detect the pedestrian. They are designed to avoid pedestrians, but in this case, they didn’t engage any type of braking system prior to impact.

Some are also faulting the safety driver who was behind the wheel of the Uber. All of these vehicles have cameras that record the driver at all times. In the moments leading up to impact, the driver can be seen taking her eyes off the road several times. It’s still early to truly determine fault, but it will be interesting to see what the investigating parties find.

As technology advances, we will likely see more cases like this in the future. Just because a vehicle is autonomous doesn’t mean that there isn’t a liable party.

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