Many Americans (including myself) have dreamed of one day owning a self driving car. Who wouldn’t like to be driven around like Miss Daisy; napping and watching television instead of dealing with traffic?
Considering how many people are killed annually by car accidents, some researchers believe self-driving cars could even save millions of lives. This is sending major companies like Google sprinting to develop and release the first autonomous vehicle.
However, this sprint may become a slow stroll after a recent accident involving a self-driving Uber.
The accident occurred on Monday, as a woman crossed the street in Tempe, Arizona. There she was hit and killed by a self-driving Uber vehicle.
“The vehicle involved is one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles,” said the Tempe police in a statement. “It was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision, with a vehicle operator behind the wheel.”
The vehicle was a Volvo XC90 SUV and it had a test driver from Uber also in the car.
The car hit pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg at about 40 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to the Tempe Police. The woman was walking her bike across the street just outside of the crosswalk.
“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,” said the Tempe police.
Herzberg, who was homeless, was not killed on impact and was picked up by an ambulance, but ultimately died from injuries in the hospital.
“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We’re fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident,” tweeted Uber.
“We are aware of the accident. Our prayers are with the victim, and our hearts go out to her family. Our office is in communication with law enforcement. Public safety is our top priority, and the Governor’s latest Executive Order provides enhanced enforcement measures and clarity on responsibility in these accidents,” said Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s office in a statement.
Arizona is one of the areas in the U.S. and Canada, along with Pittsburgh and Toronto where the tech and logistics giant is testing autonomous vehicles, or cars that drive on their own.
But following the fatal accident, Uber has suspended its autonomous vehicle program in the in North America, at least for now.
Uber is investigating the incident thoroughly and this is the first fatality to occur from a self-driving car.
“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,” tweeted Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s CEO.
Both the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are also investigating the accident.
The Ministry of Transportation in Canada’s Ontario province, which oversees the autonomous program in Toronto is also looking into the accident.
“We will be following the situation in Arizona closely, and will consider what measures are appropriate as more becomes known,” said Bob Nichols, the ministry’s spokesman.
This certainly puts a damper on self-driving car development.
The state of Arizona has become a testing ground for autonomous programs.
In Arizona, the governor signed an updated executive order that allows self-driving cars without test drivers behind the wheel.
Google’s Waymo was planning to introduce a public self-driving car service in Phoenix this year. Intel and GM are also testing in Arizona.
On a national level, just last Friday, Alphabet and Uber advocated for the quick passage of legislation that would speed up the introduction of self-driving cars in the U.S.
But this legislation had been previously blocked and will likely have the same outcome in the future considering Monday’s accident.
This accident shows testing and development may have been progressing too quickly.
However, I have to ask, are we still safer in self-driving cars? Even with this recent accident, it seems computers are far superior drivers when compared to the average human.