Uber Hires Former NTSB Chair to Advise on Safety After Fatal Self-Driving Car Crash

The company wouldn't confirm a report that the crash was caused by software issues.


Uber has hired a former National Transportation Safety Board chair to advise on safety after a fatal crash involving a self-driving car, but would not confirm a report that the crash was caused by a software glitch, reports Reuters.

"We 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," an Uber statement said. "Our review is looking at everything from the safety of our system to our training processes for vehicle operators, and we have more to say soon."

A 49-year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg, was killed by one of Uber's autonomous Volvo XC90 SUVs March 18 in Tempe Arizona. Herzberg was pushing a bicycle across a street when she was struck by the car, and subsequently died of her injuries. A human safety driver was onboard, but took no action to prevent the collision. Arizona suspended Uber's permit to test self-driving cars on its public roads, and both the NTSB and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating the incident.

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Both investigations are ongoing but The Information reported Monday that a software issue may have caused the crash. Citing anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter, the website reported that the software that controls how the vehicle reacts to objects detected by its sensors wasn't properly calibrated. The software is designed to allow the vehicle to ignore objects that don't pose a threat, like a plastic bag lying in the road. It may have been dialed back too far, according to the report. Uber declined to comment to Reuters regarding the report.

Hart was chairman of the NTSB when the agency opened an investigation into a fatal crash involving Tesla's Autopilot driver-assist system in 2016. That same year he said self-driving cars are inevitable whether they function perfectly or not.

"There will be fatal crashes," Hart said at the time, but said that when it comes to autonomous cars "this train has already left the station."