December 3, 2018 / 2:09 PM / 12 days ago

Uber hires former U.S. safety official for self-driving effort

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc on Monday confirmed it hired a senior U.S. auto safety official involved in the federal government’s handling of self-driving cars for its autonomous vehicle efforts.

FILE PHOTO: Uber's logo is displayed on a mobile phone in London, Britain, September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/File Photo

Nat Beuse, a long-time official at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) overseeing vehicle safety research, is the latest federal official to join the private sector’s effort to commercialize self-driving vehicles.

“Uber’s approach to self-driving vehicles is an opportunity to make a difference in the safe commercialization of this revolutionary technology, which I’ve spent a considerable amount of time working with in recent years,” Beuse said in a statement released by Uber. “It’s clear to me that the team here is dedicated to prioritizing safety.”

Last month, Uber asked Pennsylvania for permission to resume self-driving car testing on public roads and said it had improved the autonomous vehicle software, more than seven months after it suspended testing following a deadly crash in Arizona. Uber is still waiting for approval, a spokeswoman said.

Uber has said it will resume testing with two employees in the front seat, enable an automatic braking system at all times, and more strictly monitor safety employees.

In June, police in Tempe, Arizona, said a back-up driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber was distracted and streaming a television show on her phone right up until about the time the car struck and killed a pedestrian walking across a street, deeming the March 18 crash that rocked the nascent industry “entirely avoidable.”

The crash was the first death attributed to a self-driving vehicle and a significant setback for the industry.

Last week, Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Waymo said it hired former National Transportation Safety Board Chair Debbie Hersman as its chief safety officer. Waymo said Hersman will “oversee the design and enhancement of our product safety program.”

In 2017, General Motors Co (GM.N) hired NHTSA’s chief counsel Paul Hemmersbaugh to oversee legal and policy work on automated vehicles. Also last year, autonomous car start-up Zoox Inc hired former NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind as chief safety innovation officer.

Waymo plans to launch a limited commercial self-driving ride hailing service in Arizona before the end of the year, while GM has asked NHTSA for approval to launch a similar service next year in vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals.

In October, NHTSA said it was moving to revise safety rules that bar fully self-driving cars from the roads without human controls.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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