Uber Hires Former NHTSA Official to Help With Self-Driving Car Program

Uber is trying to revive the program after an infamous fatal crash which occurred in March.

byStephen Edelstein|
Uber Hires Former NHTSA Official to Help With Self-Driving Car Program

Uber has hired a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) official to work in its self-driving car program, which has been in limbo since a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona this March. Nat Beuse previously oversaw vehicle safety research at NHTSA, according to Reuters.

"Uber's approach to self-driving vehicles is an opportunity to make a difference in safe commercialization of this revolutionary technology, which I've spent a considerable amount of time working with in recent years," Beuse said in a statement. "It's clear to me that the team here is dedicated to prioritizing safety."

Last month, Uber sought permission from Pennsylvania officials to restart testing of self-driving cars on public roads in the state. The ride-hailing company has also signed a deal with Toyota for joint autonomous-driving tech development. But Uber's self-driving car program has been at a standstill since the March crash in Arizona, which was the first fatal accident attributed to an autonomous car.

After one of Uber's prototype self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian, police in Tempe said the backup safety driver was streaming television while behind the wheel. Uber has since said it will implement new safety-oriented policies, including having two safety drivers onboard at all times and enabling the autonomous emergency braking systems installed by vehicle manufacturers. Uber was widely criticized for disabling the system in the Volvo XC90 involved in the Arizona crash.

Meanwhile, Uber rival Waymo has continued to make progress with its self-driving cars. The former Google autonomous-driving program has said it will launch a ride-hailing service using self-driving cars in Phoenix, Arizona, before the end of this year. Automakers like Ford and General Motors are also developing autonomous cars with ride-hailing services in mind.

Ride-hailing is seen by most companies as the best use of autonomous vehicles, which is why the technology is so important to Uber. Self-driving cars eliminate the need to pay human drivers, and autonomous cars can also stay on the road longer, maximizing profits. Deploying cars in fleets rather than selling them to individual consumers also gives companies more control over how the cars are used. That's important, given the relatively early developmental stage of the technology.