Self-Driving Uber Kills Woman Crossing an Arizona Street

Tempe police have identified her as Elaine Herzberg, 49
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 19, 2018 12:49 PM CDT
Updated Mar 19, 2018 2:35 PM CDT
Self-Driving Uber Fatally Hits Pedestrian
In this Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, a self-driving Uber sits ready to take journalists for a ride during a media preview in Pittsburgh.   (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

A self-driving Uber vehicle fatally struck a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Ariz., late Sunday. The woman, who AZ Family reports has been identified as Elaine Herzberg, 49, was not within a crosswalk; she was taken to a nearby hospital and died there. The vehicle was in autonomous mode when the crash occurred around 10pm, but a vehicle operator was behind the wheel. There were no passengers. Tempe police are investigating. The New York Times reports the incident "appears to be the first known death of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle on public roads."

  • Reuters has the police statement: “The vehicle was traveling northbound ... when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle."

  • "Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident," says Uber in a statement. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted, "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."
  • The AP reports that Uber has been testing self-driving cars in Tempe and Phoenix for months, and Gizmodo notes that "autonomous vehicle developers often test drive at night, during storms, and other challenging conditions to help their vehicles learn to navigate in a variety of environments."
  • The company has suspended the self-driving tests, which were going on in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Toronto as well, reports the Wall Street Journal, which adds that the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have teams headed to Tempe.
  • As for what's next, recode reports it comes down to whether it's determined to be a system failure or human error. If it's the former, recode predicts an extended suspension of the program as Uber reviews its software. If the operator was to blame, "Uber can decide to redeploy the fleet."
  • USA Today gets a quote from John Simpson, the privacy and technology project director at Consumer Watchdog: "Arizona has been the wild west of robot car testing with virtually no regulations in place. That’s why Uber and Waymo test there. When there’s no sheriff in town, people get killed.”
(More self-driving car stories.)

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