Pedestrian Fatality in Arizona: Uber Self-Driving Test Prompts Cause for Concern

Pedestrian Fatality in Arizona: Uber Self-Driving Test Prompts Cause for Concern

Arizona governor Doug Ducey suspended Uber’s self-driving vehicle testing in late March after a Tempe pedestrian fatality occurred by that company’s self-driving car, continued testing in that state is now in doubt. Ducey cited video footage of the crash. The move by the state’s Republican governor marks a major reversal of his enthusiastic backing of self-driving vehicle companies to run tests without a person in the car to act as a safety operator.

Tempe, Arizona, police released the 22-second video which showed a woman walking from a darkened area onto a street just before being struck and killed. The self-driving Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle equipped with the company’s sensing system had a human backup driver at the wheel when it struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. The backup driver appears in the traffic camera video to be looking down immediately before the crash and then surprised at the moment of impact. Experts who reviewed the video said the SUV’s sensors should have detected Herzberg – who was pushing her bicycle – and braked in time to avoid the accident.

The Tempe fatal pedestrian crash was the first such accident involving a self-driving vehicle in the U.S., although a similar fatality involving a cyclist and self-driving vehicle was reported in Great Britain in late November 2017. Immediately after the accident, Uber suspended its self-driving vehicle testing in Arizona and its other locations in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto.

Even when an Uber self-driving car collided with another vehicle in Tempe a year earlier, both city police and Governor Ducey didn’t see the need for extra safety regulations once it was determined that the driver of the other vehicle was at fault. But the day after the fatal accident, Tempe’s mayor, Mark Mitchell, called Uber’s decision to suspend testing a “responsible step” yet still cautioned against drawing premature conclusions.

“This tragic incident makes clear that autonomous vehicle technology has a long way to go before it is truly safe for the passengers, pedestrians, and drivers who share America’s roads,” U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (Democrat, of Connecticut) told the New York Times shortly after the fatal Tempe accident.

In a statement released shortly after the Arizona pedestrian fatality, the National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating “the vehicle’s interaction with the environment, other vehicles and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.”

In one location where testing without a backup driver was just weeks away from beginning, the California Department of Motor Vehicles has decided to gather more information about the Tempe crash before giving self-driving vehicle road-testers the green light.

The League of American Bicyclists is lobbying Congress to require a “vision test” on all semi-autonomous or fully-autonomous cars before they can be deployed on public roads, the organization writes on its website.

So we can add politicians and state departments of transportation to the list that already includes squeamish drivers, cyclists, motorcycle riders and pedestrians who take a cautious “wait and see” attitude when it comes to sharing the road with driverless test vehicles.

If you have concerns or questions regarding a vehicle accident in Kentucky, we encourage you to reach out to the Johnson Law Firm today to schedule a free consultation.

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