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Report: Uber's self-driving SUV saw woman before it killed her

Regular readers of our Houston legal blog will recall the headlines made in March when an Uber vehicle struck and killed a woman walking with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona. Federal investigators of the pedestrian accident have released a preliminary report that helps clarify facts of the deadly crash.

A news article about the report says the National Transportation Safety Board makes a couple of points clearly: 1. It's very difficult to engineer and program a car to drive itself. Secondly, every developer of autonomous vehicles that is relying on human monitors as it tests its systems should be very, very careful about their system's design.

The report notes that Uber's modified Volvo SUV had been in autonomous mode for just 19 minutes when it hit the 49-year-old pedestrian while moving at about 40 mph. The vehicle's sensors detected her about six seconds before impact - but repeatedly misidentified her. First the Uber vehicle identified her as an unknown object, then a vehicle, then a bicycle. Each time, it calculated new expectations about how fast and where she would travel.

About one second before the SUV hit the woman, the self-driving system determined that emergency braking "was needed to mitigate a collision." Unfortunately, Uber's self-driving vehicles aren't allowed to make autonomous emergency braking maneuvers. Instead, Uber relied on the onboard human monitor to watch and take control in an emergency.

Also unfortunately, the human operator was looking up from his phone (too late) at the moment of impact.

We hope Uber and other developers of self-driving vehicles learn important lessons from this tragedy and strive above all to make our roads safer.

If you have been hurt in a car crash, contact an attorney experienced in personal injury litigation.

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