Uber reportedly suspended its self-driving car program after one of its autonomous vehicles got involved in a car accident that killed a pedestrian.
On Sunday, a self-driving car owned by Uber Technologies took part in an accident that caused the death of a woman in Temple, Arizona. It was said to be the first-ever fatality caused by an autonomous car on a public road.
According to reports, the vehicle was in self-driving mode when the accident happened. However, a safety driver, who could have taken control of the car in the event of a crash, was said to be on board during the incident.
The Temple Police Department said that 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was crossing the street just outside of a crosswalk Sunday evening when the car hit her.
To date, major car manufacturers pushing for the legalization of autonomous vehicles have been promoting it as a safer mode of transportation than cars driven by humans. In fact, most self-driving cars today have been equipped with state-of-the-art safety features and LIDAR sensors that can detect road obstructions.
However, despite these advanced functionalities, transportation agencies around the world are still not entirely convinced. Many believe that it would take some time to prove the safety of the driverless vehicles and develop regulations that could minimize its potential harm.
Uber’s Self-Driving Car
In response to the unfortunate event, Uber reportedly pulled off all of its self-driving cars from public roads in Arizona, San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburg.
Further reports said that the Uber vehicle was headed northbound when it struck Herzberg near Mill Avenue and Curry Road in Temple. The woman was rushed to the hospital but later succumbed to her injuries.
Following the accident, Uber confirmed that the car was indeed in self-driving mode with a safety driver behind the wheel.
According to a company representative, the safety driver was the only person inside the vehicle during the fatal crash. The driver didn’t sustain any injuries. The company declined to give further details about the driver’s identity.
The self-driving car has been taken into possession by the police. Investigators said that the vehicle’s cameras and sensors would be able to provide more useful information to help solve the case. In a statement to The Verge, Uber offered its sympathies to the victim’s family.
“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” the company said.
Uber started testing its self-driving cars in Arizona back in February 2017 after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the company’s autonomous fleet registrations in San Francisco.
Late Monday, Chief of Police Sylvia Moir said in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle that camera footage from the Uber vehicle may show that the accident was not caused by vehicle error. She said:
“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. It is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated managed crosswalks are available.”
While a safety driver was indeed in the front seat, Moir pointed out that there seems to be little that the person could do to stop the incident.
“The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them,” Moir went on to say. “His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision.”
The Temple police are currently working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to solve the case.