NTSB to determine probable cause of fatal Uber self-driving crash

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will hold a Nov. 19 hearing to determine the probable cause of a March 2018 Uber Technologies Inc UBER.N self-driving vehicle crash that killed a pedestrian in Arizona.

FILE PHOTO: A screen displays the company logo for Uber Technologies Inc. on the day of it's IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

The crash, involving a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle that Uber was using to test self-driving technology, was a blow to the autonomous vehicle industry and led other companies to temporarily halt their testing.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road when she was struck by the Uber vehicle traveling 39 miles per hour (63 kph).

Her death, the first attributed to a self-driving vehicle, prompted significant safety concerns about the nascent self-driving car industry, which is working to get vehicles into commercial use.

An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment.

In December, Uber resumed limited self-driving car testing on public roads in Pittsburgh, with some significant additional safeguards after an internal safety review.

Since the crash, several companies - including General Motors Co GM.N - have pushed back their timetables to get driverless vehicles without steering wheels into commercial use.

In March, prosecutors in Arizona said Uber was not criminally liable in the self-driving crash and they would not pursue charges.

In July, police in Tempe closed a street to conduct a lighting test as it investigated whether the Uber safety driver who was behind the wheel and supposed to respond in the event of an emergency should face criminal charges.

Police have said the crash was “entirely avoidable” and that the backup driver was watching “The Voice” TV program at the time of the crash.

Uber ended testing in Arizona but plans to eventually resume testing in Toronto and San Francisco.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also investigating.

The NTSB said in 2018 that Uber had disabled an emergency braking system in the modified 2017 Volvo XC90 test vehicle. The vehicle that struck and killed the pedestrian had identified the need to apply the brakes, the report said.

The preliminary report disclosed the vehicle’s radar systems observed the pedestrian six seconds before impact but “the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney