NTSB blames fatal Uber accident on safety driver

The agency listed 19 different contributing factors, including Uber's inadequate safety culture and lax federal regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its investigation conclusions on the fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber prototype and a pedestrian in Arizona last year.

The report (PDF) does not include many surprises, determining that the primary "probable cause" was the human safety driver's failure to monitor the driving environment and operation of the automated driving system because she was distracted by her cellphone.

The agency also listed numerous contributing factors including Uber's inadequate safety risk procedures, ineffective oversight of vehicle operators, and lack of adequate mechanisms for addressing operators' automation complacency, "all a consequence of its inadequate safety culture."

The "impaired pedestrian" who was killed by the self-driving Volvo also shared blame for walking into the street outside a crosswalk, while the Arizona Department of Transportation has been accused of implementing "insufficient oversight of automated vehicle testing."

The NTSB has called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require safety assessment reports from testing entities and establish a process for evaluating the submissions to determine if testing entities are maintaining appropriate safeguards for operating development automated driving technology on public roads. Similar recommendations have been outlined for Arizona's DoT.

The report calls on Uber to complete the implementation of a safety management system for automated driving testing that includes risk management, safety assurance and safety promotion. The company stopped testing in the wake of the accident and claims to have reformed its safety culture and protocols.

"Safety starts at the top," said NTSB chairman Robert L Sumwalt. "The collision was the last link of a long chain of actions and decisions made by an organization that unfortunately did not make safety the top priority."

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