The death of a pedestrian last year in Tempe after being struck by a self-driving Uber test car had an element of mystery. That has been cleared up by a new federal report. As acknowledged earlier, the woman was not seen as a pedestrian. However, the reason she was not seen that way by the car’s technology is that it did not allow for jaywalking.
The Arizona Republic reported on the documents, released recently ahead of a Nov. 19 meeting where the case will be discussed by the National Transportation Safety Board.
The test vehicle had a backup driver, who was determined to be watching a television show on her cellphone at the time of the crash. The report says Uber terminated employees nine times for using mobile devices while they were supposed to be monitoring vehicle performance. Nine other times, employees were given additional training for the same reason. The fact that the drivers were that careless is horrible, although it seems to indicate they had confidence in the vehicles’ ability.
The detailed report shows the design was still flawed. And two braking systems had been disabled. Part of the issue is that hard braking did not occur, and that well could have made the outcome less severe.
The company is not being prosecuted for the accident, but the status of the driver’s case has not been determined.
Of course, pedestrians should not jaywalk. But drivers know they do it all the time and make an effort not to hit them. They usually do not.
Self-driving vehicles are likely to become an important part of our society, at least many people believe so. They will have advantages of avoiding mistakes that drivers make, especially regarding inattention and fatigue. They also will never have some of the ability that experienced drivers have. Time — and many more tests — no doubt will improve the vehicles. In the meantime, the backup drivers and companies need to be held accountable.