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Uber resumes self-driving program for first time since Tempe fatality

(National Transportation Safety Board)

PHOENIX — Self-driving Uber vehicles have returned to U.S. roads for the first time since a fatal accident in suburban Phoenix four months ago.

But they aren’t driving themselves.

The autonomous vehicles resumed operation in Pittsburgh — where the ride-sharing company has an engineering facility and test track — on Tuesday with two safety operators on board.

Among new safety procedures implemented, the vehicles will remain in manual mode for now, meaning a human will be doing the driving.

In addition, an emergency braking feature that was turned off while the vehicles were in self-driving mode will be enabled.

The sensor-equipped vehicles will compile mapping data and driving information to be used in future operations.

Earlier this year, an Uber SUV in autonomous mode hit and killed a woman in Tempe. Investigations revealed that the SUV’s safety operator was streaming TV shows on her phone when the accident occurred.

Video showed operator Rafaela Vasquez looking down moments before the vehicle struck Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing Mill Avenue near Curry Road around 10 p.m. on March 18.

“After the tragedy in Tempe, we launched a top-to-bottom review of our self-driving program with a focus on safety,” Uber said in a statement, according to The Incline. “Today, we are taking a first step towards bringing our self-driving vehicles back to public roadways in Pittsburgh.”

Uber’s testing has been suspended nationwide since the incident. In May, the company announced it was winding down its Arizona operations, which had around 300 employees.

Uber officials said the vehicles are not yet restarting in other test markets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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