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More questions about that deadly Uber crash in Arizona

25 March 2018

"The stage is now set for what will essentially be beta-testing on public roads with families as unwitting crash test dummies", the letter said. Cities and states need those tests as well to understand how to prepare for the arrival of autonomous cars.

"We believe that technology has the power to make transportation safer than ever before and recognize our responsibility to contribute to safety in our communities", an Uber spokeswoman said.

And there also was pressure to live up to a goal to offer a driverless vehicle service by the end of the year and to impress top executives. It also appeared that the driver's hands were not hovering above the steering wheel, which is what drivers are instructed to do so they can quickly retake control of the vehicle. It says different companies may define the interventions differently and the outcome can be arbitrary depending on where and how the cars are tested, such as on an empty highway versus a crowded street.

It was bad news for Uber that when a self-driving vehicle first killed someone on a public road, the auto belonged to the struggling San Francisco ride-sharing firm.

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The Times reports that its reporters had reviewed 100 pages of internal Uber documents that showed the "cars were having trouble driving through construction zones and next to tall vehicles" and "Uber's human drivers had to intervene far more frequently" than their competitors.

On Tuesday, Arizona transportation officials said they saw no immediate need to tighten rules on the testing of self-driving cars in the state.

A couple of problem drivers - required to keep their hands hovering over the steering wheel to take over when necessary, according to the Times - were highlighted in the paper's report, which cited as sources two unidentified people said to be familiar with Uber's operations: One driver was reportedly fired after falling asleep at the wheel, and another was reportedly seen "air drumming" while a vehicle went through an intersection. His visit to Phoenix was seen by the Arizona team as a critical opportunity to demonstrate their progress, according to the people familiar with the company's operations in the Phoenix area.

"There's no regulations, and if there's not a sheriff in town somebody gets killed", Simpson said.

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By September 2017, Uber's autonomous cars had driven 1 million miles in a year nationwide.

In this clip, the scene of the accident comes up at about 33 seconds.

Early on in Phoenix, there were two groups of test drivers. The paired employees had been splitting duties - one ready to take over if the autonomous system failed, and another to keep an eye on what the computers were detecting. The second person had been there for only data-related tasks, not for safety, the spokesman said.

"All of this should be looked at in excruciating detail", he said. California has required the presence of such safety drivers, though starting next month firms can apply for a permit not to use them if certain requirements are met.

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More questions about that deadly Uber crash in Arizona