Uber suspends program after self-driving car killing pedestrian
Ride-hailing giant Uber is suspending its autonomous car program after a self-driving car hit a woman walking her bicycle across the street in Tempe, Arizona (US) on Sunday. The 49-year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg, died of her injuries in the hospital.
Human driver behind the wheel
The accident occurred in the Phoenix area where Uber is testing its autonomous cars, as it does in Pittsburgh (PA), San Franciso (CA) and Toronto (Canada). According to Uber a human driver was behind the wheel, while the car was in autonomous driving mode.
“A woman who was crossing outside the pedestrian crossing-place was hit by the car. She was transported to the hospital where she died”, Uber declared without giving any further details.
Speeding at 40 mph
According to news network CNN the car was a converted Volvo XC90 with Rafael Vasquez, a 44-year-old test driver from Uber behind the wheel. Tempe Police Detective Lily Duran told CNN based on preliminary information the car was driving at approximately 40 mph in a 35 mph zone when the accident happened.
That’s rather strange as autonomous driving cars are supposed to keep themselves to traffic rules at all times and speeding shouldn’t be an option. The police says at this time there is no evidence of the car slowing down significantly before hitting the pedestrian.
Earlier this month the Arizona governor Doug Ducey decided to allow self-driving cars to be tested on public roads without a human driver behind the wheel. Advocates of the autonomous car claim that the technology will rather save lives and make traffic safer because the car can react faster than a human. In this case apparently the reason for failure has to be determined yet.
Suspending program for second time
The National Transportation Safety Board is launching an investigation. Uber declared in a statement “our hearts go out to the victim’s family” and will “fully cooperate with the investigation”. It immediately suspended its autonomous driving program for an undefined period.
In 2017 Uber already grounded its vehicles for a short period after a self-driving car landed on its side in Tempe. Nobody got injured at that time. The first deadly accident with a semi-autonomous driving car, a Tesla Model S, happened in 2016.
The driver was using the autopilot without his hands on the wheel on a road near Gainesville, Florida (US) when the car’s cameras were blinded by the shiny white side of a semi-truck crossing the road and hit it at full speed.
Tesla was not held fully responsible because the system wasn’t to be used with no hands on the wheel. Tesla later changed the autopilot to shut off when the driver don’t touches the steering wheel for a certain period of time.