Uber Technologies Inc. stopped autonomous vehicle tests after one of its cars struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona.
Police stated on Monday that an Uber self-driving car hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Arizona, marking the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle and a potential blow to the technology expected to transform transportation.
The ride services company said it was stopping North American tests of its self-driving vehicles, which are currently going on in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”
Self-driving cars, when fully developed by companies including Uber, Alphabet Inc, and General Motors Co, are expected to drastically cut down on motor vehicle fatalities and create billion-dollar businesses.
But Monday’s accident underscored the possible challenges ahead for the promising technology as the cars confront real-world situations involving real people.
U.S. lawmakers have been debating legislation that would speed the introduction of self-driving cars.
“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” said Democratic Senator Edward Markey, a member of the transportation committee, in a statement.
The 49-year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe about 10 p.m. last Sunday when the Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode under the supervision of a human safety driver struck her.
After the incident, she was transferred to a nearby hospital, where she died from her injuries.
“Uber is assisting and this is still an active investigation,” Liliana Duran, a Tempe police spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said that from viewing videos taken from the vehicle “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 told the Chronicle, “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” but she did not rule out that charges could be filed against the operator in the Uber vehicle, the paper reported.
Tempe authorities and federal officials are still investigating the incident. Canada’s transportation ministry in Ontario, where Uber conducts testing, also said it was reviewing the accident.
Companies including Alphabet Inc., General Motors Co., Uber and Baidu Inc. are investing billions of dollars to develop autonomous-vehicle technology because it has the potential to transform the auto industry, transportation in general and the way cities work.
The fatality in Tempe could slow and put off testing, delay commercialization and undermine such optimism.
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