Uber has halted its live trials of self-driving cars after one of its vehicles was involved in an accident that resulted in a pedestrian’s death on Sunday.
Around 10pm local time on Sunday night, Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old woman was struck by one of Uber’s self-driving SUVs while walking her bicycle across a road in Tempe, Arizona. She rushed to hospital, where she was pronounced dead. In a press conference following the accident, local police confirmed that the vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the incident, with a ‘safety driver’ behind the wheel.
Safety drivers are required in Uber’s live AV trials, intended to be able to take control of the vehicle in case the self-driving system fails, or the vehicle appears to be endangering other road users.
Local police said that the vehicle had been travelling at around 65 kilometres per hour, and that they had not found ‘significant evidence’ that the vehicle had braked before striking the woman, noting that their investigation was ongoing.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted his condolences, and the company announced suspension of all live AV trials in the U.S, which had been taking place in locations including Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Toronto and San Francisco.
Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened. https://t.co/cwTCVJjEuz
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) March 19, 2018
Tesla was the first to report a death involving one of its vehicles in 2016, when a 40-year-old man was killed in a collision with a truck while his Tesla Model S was in semi-autonomous ‘autopilot’ mode, but this is the first fatal incident involving a vehicle that was under fully autonomous control at the time of the accident.
Many states and territories in the U.S. allow autonomous vehicle trials on public roads, with the federal government only imposing voluntary guidelines. Autonomous vehicle trials are underway in Australia in areas segregated from public road users. A recent report by KPMG found ranked Australia 14th out of 20 in terms of readiness for AVs, in which countries were assessed on criteria of policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance.
Autonomous vehicles are widely considered to be a safer alternative to human-controlled traffic, once appropriate infrastructure, technology and policy are in place.
13,298 people were killed on Australian roads by human drivers between 2007 and 2017, 1,768 of whom were pedestrians.