An Uber self-driving car hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Ariz., Sunday night, an incident that might prove a setback to the otherwise feverish development of autonomous transportation.
The Uber car was in self-driving mode when the accident occurred, but had a safety driver at the wheel as is the norm when testing autonomous vehicles, according to local police.
Uber issued a statement saying that it was “fully cooperating with local authorities.” The ride-hailing company has temporarily halted its self-driving tests in wake of the incident in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto, as is its policy following any accident.
The woman, who has not been named, was crossing outside the designated crosswalk at about 10 p.m. when she was hit, police said.
Sgt. Ronald Elcock, a Tempe police spokesman, confirmed to the USA TODAY Network that the car was in autonomous mode with a driver behind the wheel when it hit the pedestrian. There were no passengers in the car at the time.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted Monday that the company had “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.”
This appears to be the first known pedestrian death involving a self-driving car, which are being developed in part to drastically reduce the number of pedestrian deaths. Some 40,000 people were killed in traffic accidents last year.
The incident is sure to add fuel to concerns on the part of some activists, such as Consumer Watchdog, who feel the technology that allows the cars to sense their surroundings is not ready for prime time.
Uber and Waymo, the name of Google’s self-driving car company, have been testing self-driving cars aggressively in the Phoenix area for a few years.
Waymo has been picking up beta-program passengers in its self-driving Pacifica minivans since last year, and later this year plans to open up the program to a wide Phoenix audience.
The company also just started operating without a safety driver overseeing the ride from the passenger seat.
It remains too early to tell if the fatality will slow the feverish pace of self-driving car progress. Large automakers and technology companies alike have been accelerating their efforts to develop commercially viable self-driving cars, which promise a host of benefits.
Paramount is their ability to cut down on the soaring number of traffic deaths, which are partly due to distracted driving in the age of the smartphone.
But self-driving cars, which run on electricity, also would be a boon to ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft, whose business models currently are hamstrung by having to pay drivers.
Source: Marco della Cava, USA TODAY
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