Uber Self-Driving Vehicle Possibly Not at Fault in Recent Fatality

Mar 20, 2018

Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir says that Uber’s self-driving car likely wasn’t at fault in the recent death of a pedestrian.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, died in Tempe, Arizona, after being hit by an Uber self-driving car outside of a crosswalk on March 18 around 10pm. The vehicle was in self-driving mode, but it had a human driver behind the wheel for back-up when the collision occurred.

Uber’s self-driving cars are fitted with multiple video cameras, which showed a woman pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags abruptly walking from a center median into a lane of traffic. From viewing the videos, “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 said.

The incident happened within perhaps 100 yards of a crosswalk, Moir said. “It is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available.”

According to Bloomberg, Uber paused all of its autonomous vehicle pilots in San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto after the fatal incident, and the ride-share company has stated its commitment to assist with the investigation of the incident. Toyota also decided to temporarily halt its self-driving car tests following the incident, too, according to Reuters.

Police Chief Moir stated that she would not rule out the potential of filing charges if investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration find the back-up driver in the Uber vehicle to be at fault. But, if the vehicle itself is the culprit, Moir did not have a firm answer on next steps.

“This is really new ground we’re venturing into,” she said.

Featured image courtesy of Uber

*This post has been updated to include the information on Toyota pausing its self-driving car tests.

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