On Sunday ( March 18) night, a self-driving car operated by Uber being tested with an emergency backup driver behind the wheel crashed and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. Reportedly, the first ever death caused by the self-driving car was a Volvo XC90 SUV operated by Uber was in autonomous mode with a human safety driver at the wheel carrying no passengers when it crashed Elanie Herzberg, a 49-year-old woman on Sunday night. Interestingly, the regular Volvo XC90 is considered to be one of the safest SUV globally. This is believed to be the first death by accident associated with autonomous and self-driving technology. Uber has currently suspended testing of its cars in Tempe as well as in San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto. This accident comes as a reality check to every auto and tech company working on autonomous cars proving that this technology is still at an experimental stage and even government has not yet figured out on its regulations.
General Motors, Google (Waymo), Uber, and a long list of companies have invested heavily towards the development of autonomous cars globally and especially in the US and Europe. It is claimed that these driverless cars will be safer than human driving as it takes out the big equation of human distraction. However, this technology is still at about a decade old and this accident leading to a death proves that development is still at a nascent stage and there is a long way to go. There is also the need for a certain law to kick in as it is still unclear on whom to blame in such a situation.
Reports also suggest that this crash in Arizona might lead other companies and state authorities to slow the rollout autonomous cars on public roads. A report on the The New York Times says that many states in the US, like Arizona have taken a lenient approach to regulate plying of driverless cars. Arizona officials wanted to lure companies working on self-driving technology out of neighboring California, where regulators had been strict. However, California is expected to allow companies to test cars without a person in the driver’s seat soon.
Meanwhile, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is sending a team to the crash site to further investigate the fatal collision of this Uber driverless car that caused the death of a pedestrian. The Uber vehicle was part of the company’s self-driving fleet of vehicles. The investigation will address the vehicle’s interaction with the environment, other vehicles and vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.