Uber CEO Says Self-Driving Cars Are 'Student Drivers'


Uber Technologies Inc. Chief Executive

Dara Khosrowshahi

said the ride-hailing firm is “absolutely committed” to its self-driving-car program after one of its autonomous vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona last month, but said the technology needs to be refined.

“Ultimately, self-driving cars will be safer than humans,” Mr. Khosrowshahi said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “But right now self-driving cars are learning. They’re student drivers.”

Uber suspended its program in four test cities following the March 18 accident, which is believed to be the first known fatality involving an autonomous vehicle.

Mr. Khosrowshahi told “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie that the company was working with investigators to determine whether the ride-hailing firm’s technology was at fault. He also said he is reviewing the company’s safety practices ranging from driver training to software.

The vehicle was in autonomous mode but had a human safety operator at the wheel when it hit 49-year-old

Elaine Herzberg,

who police say later died from her injuries. Her family since settled with Uber for undisclosed terms.

The accident has increased scrutiny on Uber and other companies collectively spending billions of dollars developing and testing autonomous cars, which they contend will cut traffic fatalities. Regulators have said human error causes 94% of crashes.

Tesla
Inc.

this week defended its semiautonomous Autopilot system, blaming a fatal March 23 accident on the driver, who it alleges didn’t heed the car’s warnings to pay attention to the road.

Navigating Uber’s response to the fatal accident is one of Mr. Khosrowshahi’s early tests as CEO. He succeeded Uber co-founder

Travis Kalanick

last year with a mandate to repair the company’s image after a string of scandals including allegations that management had ignored female workers’ complaints of sexism and sexual harassment. He said on the “Today” show that the changes to the culture since he and his team took over are “night and day.”

Mr. Khosrowshahi said the company is adding a 911 button to its ride-hailing application that will directly connect riders to emergency operators and share their locations. Uber also recruited former Homeland Security Secretary

Jeh Johnson

to chair its safety council, Mr. Khosrowshahi said.

Write to Cara Lombardo at cara.lombardo@wsj.com

Appeared in the April 13, 2018, print edition as ‘Uber Sticks to Self-Driving.’



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