Arizona Governor Doug Ducey has suspended Uber’s autonomous vehicle testing program following the world’s first fatality involving a self-driving car.
On Sunday March 18, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was struck by an Uber vehicle while pushing her bike across a darkened street. She was taken to hospital but later died from her injuries.
Video of the incident has since been released that shows the collision from two different angles, one of which shows back-up safety driver Rafaela Vasquez, who was behind the wheel when the accident occurred but wasn't controlling the vehicle, looking at something in her lap in the moments immediately before the collision.
Safety a 'top priority'
Referring to the video in a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Ducey said he found the incident “disturbing and alarming”.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AZCentral, Ducey said safety was his primary reason for suspending the self-driving tests.
“Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona's approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona,“ Ducey wrote.
“The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.“
He added: “In the best interests of the people of my state I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber's ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona's public roadways.“
Following the collision Uber ceased all of its trials, not only in Tempe, Arizona, but in all cities in which it was trialling the self-driving technology.
In a statement Uber said: “We proactively suspended self-driving operations in all cities immediately following the tragic incident last week. We continue to help investigators in any way we can, and we'll keep a dialogue open with the Governor's office going forward.“
While the March 18 incident was the first pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving car, it's not the first death involving an autonomous vehicle. In May 2016 Tesla driver Joshua Brown was killed when his semi-autonomous car hit a truck in Florida after he had put the vehicle into autopilot mode.
An investigation later found that Brown had taken his hands off the car's steering wheel for extended periods of time, despite automated warnings not to do so.
The exact cause of the Arizona collision is still being investigated, but with road safety being one of the primary benefits touted for self-driving cars, both Uber and regulatory bodies will be urgently searching for answers, and seeing what lessons can be learned from the tragedy.
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