Uber Self-Driving Car Crash Detailed in Police Report

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A newly released Tempe, Ariz., police report sheds light on last week’s crash involving Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving vehicle, revealing that the sport-utility vehicle was hit after entering an intersection on a yellow light.

Police had already ruled that Uber’s vehicle, which the company has said was in autonomous mode, wasn’t to blame. Statements to police suggest turning traffic blocked both parties’ views before the collision, raising new questions about what the sensors and cameras onboard the Uber vehicle could see and how data from those pieces of hardware was used to respond to a tough driving situation.

“Other than a roundabout, it’s probably one of the more complex decision-making scenarios,” said Dave Sullivan, an industry analyst with consultancy AutoPacific Inc. “Seeing is one thing, decision making is another.”
Alexandra Cole, who was driving a Honda CRV, was attempting to turn left at an intersection when she failed to yield to the Uber vehicle, according to the report.

“As far as I could tell, the third lane had no one coming in it, so I was clear to make my turn,” Ms. Cole wrote in her statement to police. “Right as I got to the middle lane about to cross the third, I saw a car flying through the intersection but couldn’t brake fast enough to completely avoid collision.”

The Uber vehicle, a Volvo XC90 SUV, was going about 38 miles an hour, slightly under the 40 mph speed limit, as it approached the intersection where traffic turning left was backed up, according to a written statement from Patrick Murphy, the company’s employee who was behind the wheel in case he needed to take control.
The Volvo entered the intersection heading straight on a yellow light. “As I entered the intersection, I saw the vehicle turning left,” Mr. Murphy wrote. “There was no time to react as there was a blind spot created by the line of traffic.”

A person who witnessed the accident said in the report that the Uber car was at fault for “trying to beat the light and hitting the gas so hard.”

An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment on the police report. Bloomberg News earlier reported its details.
Uber had already said it had two employees in the vehicle and that no customers were in the vehicle. Mr. Murphy was there as a precaution to take over if the vehicle’s autonomous system couldn’t handle a situation or because of safety concerns, as is a common practice among companies testing such systems.

After the accident, Uber briefly suspended its self-driving program, which is also being tested in Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

The program is considered crucial for Uber, which is valued at nearly $70 billion, as it seeks a way to provide on-demand mobility without the expense of human drivers. It is behind Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo in development of the self-driving technology.

Waymo has already logged more than 2.5 million miles on public roadways and is suing Uber over claims that a former Alphabet employee stole corporate secrets for his own self-driving startup that was later acquired by the ride-hailing service to jump-start its program.

Waymo’s cars have gotten in minor accidents before, but only one was the fault of the self-driving car, according to reports from the company. That accident happened in February 2016, when one of its cars slowly bumped into a bus. No one was injured.

Uber hasn’t released its own crash report for the Arizona accident, which the company would be required to file if the collision had occurred in California. Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group, has called on Uber to release all of the data from the crash.

“Companies like Uber are using our public roads as their private laboratories,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, in a statement. “There must be complete transparency and accountability about what they are doing, which clearly can threaten public safety.”


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