The Uber Crash: A Cautionary Tale of Cause and Effect

I can’t quite let go of the subject of self-driving cars. Let’s have a look at the cause of the deadly Uber crash that happened in March, and what everyone should take away from it.

You probably know the story, but let’s recap anyway: On March 18, a self-driving car struck a woman crossing the road in Tempe, Arizona. She was taken to the hospital, where she later died from her injuries. I covered the incident in my post Self-Driving Cars Must Be Banned Now!.

Since I wrote the thunderous entry, there has been some progress in Uber’s own investigation of the deadly March 18 crash. On May 7, The Information broke an exclusive story explaining what probably happened.

The Volvo XC90’s sensors detected 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed the road, but the software decided it was a false positive. A “false positive” is a false alarm, i.e. the software decided that the sensors had detected something that could be ignored. As a result of that, the vehicle didn’t take evasive action, and Herzberg was hit by the car.

Murderous Self-Driving Vehicles Strike Again

For the second time in under two months, one of those deadly self-driving vehicles has been involved in a crash in Arizona.

On March 18, a female bicyclist was killed when she crossed the road in Tempe, Arizona. A self-driving car from Uber failed to avoid her, and she was struck by the vehicle. I covered this incident in the post Self-Driving Cars Must Be Banned Now!. A week ago, on May 4, another self-driving car was involved in a car crash in Arizona. This time, the incident happened in Chandler, and the autonomous car was not operated by Uber, but by Waymo.

Three cars were involved in the Chandler incident. The driver of the first car jumped a red light, and had to swerve to avoid the second car, which was moving into the intersection on a green light. That maneuver propelled it in to the oncoming lane, where it hit the third car, a self-driving van from Waymo. Here’s a video released by the company, showing how the incident was captured by the cameras attached to the Waymo.

Self-Driving Cars Must Be Banned Now!

Or perhaps not?

People have gotten themselves killed by Tesla autopilot for quite some time. The first known fatal incident happened in 2016, when a Tesla Model S with the autopilot engaged slammed into a 18-wheel tractor-trailer. The autopilot didn’t notice the white side of the crossing tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, and the brakes were never engaged. The Tesla went so fast the roof of the car was cut off, and the vehicle didn’t come to a stop until it snapped a telephone pole a quarter-mile down the road. The driver in this particular accident was watching a Harry Potter DVD while driving.

Now self-driving cars have taken it to the next level, and are killing not only their drivers, but also unsuspecting pedestrians. On March 18, a woman crossing the road with her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, was struck by a self-driving car operated by Uber. She was taken to the hospital, where she later died from her injuries.

Uber has naturally pulled all their self-driving cars off the road after the accident. Not surprisingly, many people are now calling for all autonomous vehicles to be removed from public roads until the cause of the Uber crash has been found. Other’s are demanding that the whole idea of a self-driving car being banned and buried.

Crying out for a ban is often the knee-jerk reaction when something new and scary goes awry. But it’s not necessarily the rational thing to do.