Self-Driving Ubers Return to the Road Following Arizona Crash

Self-Driving Ubers Return to the Road Following Arizona Crash

March 29, 2017  | Greg Rogers

March 29, 2017

Uber’s automated vehicles are back on the road following a collision in Tempe, Arizona last week when one of its self-driving vehicles was struck and rolled onto its side.

In the wake of the crash, Uber grounded its entire fleet of automated vehicles (AVs) operating in California, Pittsburgh, and Arizona in order to research the cause of the collision and assess whether it was safe to return the other cars in its fleet to public roads.

Uber’s vehicle, which was in self-driving mode at the time, had the right of way when a human driver failed to yield while making a left turn at an intersection. The human driver was deemed to be at fault and was issued a citation for failure to yield while making a left turn, according to Wired.

While the photos of the vehicle were unsettling, Arizona police reported no injuries to the engineers in the Uber or the human driver in the other vehicle.

(Source: Fresco News, via Twitter)

For some time, AV advocates have expressed concern that realizing the significant benefits of life-saving safety technologies would be slowed by the deployment of immature technologies by AV developers – which could potentially result in significant harm to AV occupants and/or other road users.

And perhaps this was the reason why Uber partnered with Volvo, which has been recognized as one of the world’s safest auto manufacturers and has made a bold pledge that, by 2020, no occupants will be killed or seriously injured in its new vehicles.

Backing this assertion is a statement by Volvo’s CEO in 2015 that it would accept all liability for collisions when its vehicles are in self-driving mode.

(Asst. Ed. Note: This does not apply to Uber’s AV tests and deployments, which are conducted using Uber’s proprietary systems.)

Uber penned a deal with Volvo last August wherein the tech firm purchased 100 of the Swedish automaker’s XC90s and both companies agreed to contribute $300 million for Uber to equip the vehicles with its AV technology.

However, Uber’s ambitious AV project is not without its detractors.

In February of this year, an advocate for victims of traffic collisions, Jeremy Warriner, launched the Safe Autonomous Vehicles (SAVe) Campaign. This national coalition advocates for transparency and manufacturer accountability when operating AVs on public roads.

“Autonomous vehicles offer an incredible opportunity to reduce injuries and fatalities caused by car accidents.  However, this is an industry that requires oversight and careful scrutiny,” said Warriner in a press release announcing the campaign’s launch. “Let’s remember that this is the same industry that brought us faulty airbags, dangerous ignition switches, hidden devices to conceal exhaust levels, and malfunctioning gas pedals, just to name a few.”

No stranger to controversy, Uber has had a particularly storied past with regulators. Since its inception several years ago, the bull-headed Silicon Valley giant has repeatedly battled cities and states alike for its ability to operate its rideshare services.

Over the years, Uber has contested, defied, and/or dismantled regulations that taxi and livery services were historically required to comply with (e.g., driver fingerprinting, obtaining medallions, registering with local governments).

Tensions were exacerbated last year after the company made a surprise announcement that it would launch its Self-Driving Uber service in San Francisco.

Anthony Levandowski, Uber’s head of self-driving operations, spearheaded the launch. But a kerfuffle between Levandowski and the state government over the semantics of its AV regulations led Uber to withdraw its vehicles within a matter of weeks. (Levandowski, as ETW has written previously, played a pivotal role in writing some of the nation’s first AV laws in Nevada (2011) and California (2012))

This led Uber to move its vehicles to Arizona after its governor, Doug Ducey (R), invited the company to test AVs in the state with minimal regulatory oversight.

Arizona, unlike California, does not require AV testers to undergo an exhaustive permitting process and does not require annual reports on vehicle performance or collisions. Nonetheless, despite its initial recalcitrance, Uber later returned two of its self-driving Volvos to California in early March after applying for and obtaining an AV testing permit.

California compliance notwithstanding, some safety advocates seized on the opportunity to criticize Uber’s AV program – even in the wake of the recent collision where a human driver was deemed to be at fault.

“Companies like Uber are using our public roads as their private laboratories,” said John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog in a press release. “There must be complete transparency and accountability about what they are doing, which clearly can threaten public safety.”

Simpson has called on Uber to sign onto the SAVe Campaign’s pledge to accept all responsibility for crashes caused by its AVs – and also to release any videos and/or technical data pertaining to the recent collision.

Uber was originally included in the group of eighteen AV developers that the SAVe Campaign approached for the pledge.

To date, only Volvo has signed on.

“Self-driving car manufactures and developers must accept responsibility when their automated and autonomous technologies fail,” said Simpson.

“If Uber is finally serious about becoming a responsible corporate citizen, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick must take the SAVe pledge immediately.”

Share

Related Articles

Op-Ed: Why Automated Driving Faces a Monster Uphill Battle

Op-Ed: Why Automated Driving Faces a Monster Uphill Battle

My three-year-old daughter takes her friend’s power wheels car for a first-time spin. I briefly show her how to turn the steering wheel...

Are federal AV investigations a first step toward federal regulation? Not necessarily, experts say

Are federal AV investigations a first step toward federal regulation? Not necessarily, experts say

"There hasn't been a lot of concrete regulation. The federal government has been largely permissive, and there are very few regulatory...

Webinar: The New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Emerging Transportation Technologies

Webinar: The New Mobilities: Smart Planning for Emerging Transportation Technologies

New transportation technologies are coming online faster than ever. While many of these emerging technologies are helping to expand our...

Congressional Hearing Discusses Promises and Perils of Automated Vehicles

Congressional Hearing Discusses Promises and Perils of Automated Vehicles

On May 18, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce held a hearing on "Promises and...

Guest Op-Ed: The Current State of Public Policy for Autonomous Trucking

Guest Op-Ed: The Current State of Public Policy for Autonomous Trucking

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has long advocated for the benefits autonomous vehicles can bring to the nation’s...

Senate Commerce Looks at AV Development, but Pulls Bill from Schedule

Senate Commerce Looks at AV Development, but Pulls Bill from Schedule

This week, a Senate committee hearing looked at autonomous vehicle (AV) safety regulation, but the committee then postponed debate on AV...

Research on Low Speed Automated Vehicles Demonstrates Their Limitations and Potential

Research on Low Speed Automated Vehicles Demonstrates Their Limitations and Potential

During the final week of the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, the Transit Cooperative Research Program released...

Webinar: How Automated Delivery Could Shape the Future of Local Commerce

Webinar: How Automated Delivery Could Shape the Future of Local Commerce

COVID-19 has highlighted both the value of home delivery and contactless service. Automated vehicles (AV) could potentially enable both....

Guest Op-Ed: It Turns Out, Humans Are Pretty Smart: Developing Self-Driving Cars Is Harder Than We Thought

Guest Op-Ed: It Turns Out, Humans Are Pretty Smart: Developing Self-Driving Cars Is Harder Than We Thought

Self-driving cars. We’ve been promised for years they were “coming soon.” Most estimates a decade ago thought self-driving cars would...

Webinar: Automated Vehicle Technology, Public Policy, and BMW's Level 3 AV System

Webinar: Automated Vehicle Technology, Public Policy, and BMW's Level 3 AV System

While much of the transportation-related news has been focused on COVID-19 recovery, automated vehicle technologies are quietly progressing...

New Automated Vehicle Safety Self-Assessment from BMW Reveals AV Technology Progress, Policy Gaps

New Automated Vehicle Safety Self-Assessment from BMW Reveals AV Technology Progress, Policy Gaps

Last week BMW quietly released a new Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment (VSSA), which was posted to the National Highway Traffic Safety...

House Tees Up Revamp of an Automated Vehicle Bill

House Tees Up Revamp of an Automated Vehicle Bill

On Tuesday, February 11, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection & Commerce held a hearing on...

Be Part of the Conversation
Sign up to receive news, events, publications, and course notifications.
No thanks