Uber Officially Shuts Down Self-Driving Car Operation in Arizona

May 24, 2018

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Uber announced Wednesday that it would officially be shuttering its self-driving car operation in Arizona after a fatal crash in which one of the vehicles struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March.

The ride-share company announced that it would lay off 300 of its Arizona workers, the majority of whom were vehicle operators charged with monitoring the cars while they were in self-driving mode. The state had been a major outpost for Uber’s autonomous vehicle test operations. About half of Uber’s fleet of 200 self-driving cars were stationed in Phoenix. Arizona was known in the industry for being welcoming to autonomous vehicle testing. In December 2016, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said in a statement that “Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads.”

Those sentiments quickly soured after an Uber self-driving vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, as she walked across the street in Tempe, Arizona at about 10:00pm on March 18. By the end of March, Ducey had suspended Uber’s ability to test the self-driving vehicles in Arizona. In a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Ducey said he watched video of the accident, and he found it to be “disturbing and alarming,” and that it “raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona.”

Following the fatal accident, Uber had voluntarily suspended operations on its self-driving cars in all test cities, which included Phoenix, as well as San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto.

“We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future,” Uber told CNN in a statement. “In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture.”

As the investigations into the crash continue, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that the computer system on the self-driving vehicle involved in the crash saw Herzberg but failed to brake. The federal officials said the vehicle registered Herzberg about six seconds before hitting her, but did not stop because its emergency braking was disabled.

The NTSB’s preliminary report on the crash released on Thursday said that while the cars are in self-driving mode, the emergency brake function is disabled “to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” Rather, the cars rely on the human backup operator to react and stop the car. The system, however, is not designed to alert the driver.

Featured image by JasonDoiy/Getty Images.

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