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Uber test vehicles involved in 37 crashes before fatal incident

Reuters/Washington
Filed on November 7, 2019 | Last updated on November 7, 2019 at 07.50 am
The fatal crash involving Uber prompted significant safety concerns about the nascent self-driving car industry.

(Reuters file)

Shares fall as much as 9% to record low after shares held by early investors became available for sale

Uber Technologies' autonomous test vehicles were involved in 37 crashes in the 18 months before a fatal March 2018 self-driving car accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said.

The board said between September 2016 and March 2018, there were 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in autonomous mode at the time, including 33 that involved another vehicle striking test vehicles.

In one incident, the test vehicle struck a bent bicycle lane bollard that partially occupied the test vehicle's lane of travel. In another incident, the operator took control to avoid a rapidly approaching oncoming vehicle that entered its lane of travel. The vehicle operator steered away and struck a parked car. The NTSB will hold a probable cause hearing on the crash on November 19.

A spokeswoman for Uber's self-driving car effort, Sarah Abboud, said the company regretted the crash that killed Elaine Herzberg and noted it has "adopted critical program improvements to further prioritize safety. We deeply value the thoroughness of the NTSB's investigation into the crash and look forward to reviewing their recommendations".

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

The NTSB said previously Uber had disabled an emergency braking system in the modified Volvo test vehicle.

In the aftermath of the crash, Uber suspended all testing and did not resume testing in Pennsylvania until December with revised software and with significant new restrictions and safeguards.

NTSB said Uber conducted simulation of sensor data from the crash with the revised software and told the agency that "the new software would have been able to detect and correctly classify the pedestrian at a distance of approximately 88 metres - 4.5 seconds - before the original time of impact."

NTSB added, "The system would have initiated controlled braking more than 4 seconds before the original time of impact."

In March, prosecutors in Arizona said Uber was not criminally liable in the self-driving crash. 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 programme at the time of the crash.

Shares dive to record low

Meanwhile, Uber shares fell as much as 9 per cent to a record low on Wednesday after shares held by early investors became available for sale following the expiration of a six-month restriction related to the ride-hailing company's initial public offering.

Uber made its market debut at $45 per share in May, but has since lost more than 40% in value as the loss-making company struggled to retain investor confidence.

Much of Uber's nearly 1.68 billion outstanding shares were under lock-up. In the IPO filing, Uber had said about 76 per cent of its shares held by insiders, venture capitalists and other investors were under the restriction.

"Some of the sell-off over the last few days has been attributed to the fear of additional liquidity coming into the market as a result of the lock-up expiration today, and people were trying to get ahead of that," said Matt Novak, managing partner at All Blue Capital, an Uber investor.

However, not all early investors will hit the market to book a profit as they might have bought shares above the current trading price of $25.58.

SoftBank Group, which has invested billions in Uber to become its largest investor, in 2017 bought preferred stock at $48.77 per share and common shares at $32.97 apiece from existing shareholders, including co-founder Travis Kalanick.

The Japanese firm, which took a beating on its investment in WeWork, earlier on Wednesday reported its first quarterly loss in 14 years, hurt by an $8.9 billion hit at its giant Vision Fund.


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