While not ruled at fault, a recent wreck highlighted some vulnerabilities of Uber’s self-driving cars
An official police report on a crash involving an Uber self-driving car and regular car has shed more light on what went down in Arizona.
The crash happened on Mar. 24 in Tempe when one of Uber’s self-driving Volvos entered an intersection and was hit by an SUV making a left turn. The self-driving car was hit so hard by the other car that it was knocked on its side.
We now know there were two Uber drivers but no passengers in the car at the time of the crash and that the car was in autonomous mode when the crash occurred, according to the report by Tempe Police released Wednesday and obtained by Bloomberg. The police report also cleared Uber of any fault in the crash.
But, as always in these situations, the report shows there were initial conflicting reports as to what actually happened before the crash. According to statements given to police by one of the Uber drivers, the car was going 38 miles per hour (below the speed limit of 40 mph) when it entered the intersection, and the car didn’t see the turning vehicle because of traffic and didn’t have enough time to react.
The driver of the other car, Alexandra Cole, however, disputed this, saying there was no other traffic until the Uber car came "flying through the intersection."
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An Uber autonomous SUV was involved in a three-vehicle collision in Tempe on March 24, 2017.
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Another witness backed up Cole’s statement and suggested the self-driving car was making an all-too-human mistake in trying to speed through the intersection and "beat the light." Uber later denied that claim in a statement to the Arizona Republic.
Ultimately, police agreed with Uber and said its car was not to blame for the crash and other witness reports backed that police decision. Cole was cited for failing to yield the right of way.
Even with Uber’s denial of the "beat the light" suggestion, it highlights, as the Wall Street Journal notes, that there may be a gap in the actual decision-making process for the automated car.
It also harkens back to a December incident in San Francisco in which one of Uber’s self-driving cars was filmed speeding through a red light. The company blamed the incident on human error but a later report by the New York Times indicated it was, indeed, technology to blame. That Times story also noted several other incidents in which Uber’s self-driving cars failed to recognize a red light.
No one was hurt in the crash but it highlights the risk of self-driving cars being on the road for testing. Despite the crash, the self-driving cars were back on the road in Arizona and Pittsburgh as of Monday and returned to the streets of San Francisco after an earlier battle between the company and the State of California’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
We’ve reached out to Uber for comment about the Arizona crash.