Woman dies in Arizona after being hit by Uber self-driving car
March 20, 2018 05:05 pm
An Uber self-driving car hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Arizona, police said on Monday, marking the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle.
The accident also deals a potential blow to the technology expected to transform transportation.
The ride services company said it was suspending North American tests of its self-driving vehicles, which have been under way in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
So-called robot cars, when fully developed by companies including Uber, Alphabet and General Motors, are expected to drastically cut down on motor vehicle fatalities and create billion-dollar businesses.
But Monday’s accident underscored the possible challenges ahead for the promising technology as the cars confront real-world situations involving real people.
US legislators have been debating legislation that would speed the introduction of self-driving cars.
“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” Democratic Senator Edward Markey, a member of the transportation committee, said in a statement.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe at about 10pm local time Sunday (4am GMT on Monday) when she was struck by the Uber vehicle, which was travelling at about 65km/h, police said.
The Volvo XC90 SUV was in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel.
Herzberg later died from her injuries in a hospital, police said.
“The pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk. As soon as she walked into the lane of traffic she was struck,” St Ronald Elcock of the Tempe police told reporters. He said he did not yet know how close Herzberg was to the vehicle when she stepped into the lane.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported late on Monday that Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir said that from viewing videos taken from the vehicle, “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway”.
Moir told the Chronicle: “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” but she did not rule out that charges could be filed against the operator in the Uber vehicle, the paper reported.
Moir’s office did not immediately have a comment when reached by Reuters.
Tempe authorities and federal officials are still investigating the incident. Canada’s transport ministry in Ontario, where Uber conducts testing, also said it was reviewing the accident.
Volvo, the Swedish car brand owned by China’s Geely, said the software controlling the car in the crash was not its own.
Elcock said video footage would aid the ongoing investigation, and the case would be submitted to the district attorney.
“Our investigators have that information, and they will be using that in their investigation as well as the Maricopa County attorney’s office as part of their investigation,” said Elcock.
“They are going to attempt to try to find who was possibly at fault and how we can better be safe, whether it’s pedestrians or whether it’s the vehicle itself.”