The first fatal accident brought on by the increased testing of autonomous cars on the road has occurred, with one of Uber's self-driving cars killing a pedestrian in Arizona.
On the night of March 18, a self-driving Uber vehicle — manned by a backup driver behind the wheel — hit a woman, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, on a street in Tempe, Arizona. Reports say it is the first death associated with self-driving technology, at least in the context of ride-hailing services, for which Uber plans to use its self-driving cars.
Uber Self-Driving Car Hits Woman In Arizona
Tempe Police spokesperson Ronald Elcock said that a preliminary investigation shows the car was moving around 40 miles per hour when it hit Herzberg, who was walking around with her bicycle. The car didn't slow down before impact. The backup driver didn't show any signs of impairment.
Uber swiftly halted operations in Tempe, Arizona in light of the accident, plus Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto tests, as The New York Times reports.
The State Of Self-Driving Cars
Her death is a tragic reminder that self-driving cars, though promising and seemingly far developed enough, remains somewhat of a risky experiment. Not only does it raise questions about the safety of putting them on the road — eventually without backup drivers, that's the goal — but it also strains the already tricky dialog regarding its government regulation.
It's not just Uber, either. It's Lyft, it's Tesla, and it's a bunch of other big-name companies who want to put self-driving cars on the road in the future. Some of these companies, like Uber, have begun testing their vehicles around the country. They claim that autonomous cars will be safer than conventional cars because everything is done by a computer performing highly complex algorithms and processing mountainous amounts of real-time road data, erasing the element of distracted driving, which a human is susceptible to.
The technology, however, is still relatively young at 10 years old. There's a lot of room for improvement. But ultimately, if a self-driving car can't be 100 percent safe, what are they for? What's the point? As these companies claim, these vehicles take distracted driving out of the picture, which means zero accidents, zero fatalities, and zero deaths. So what does Herzberg's death say about self-driving technology if the accident itself corrodes the significance of having self-driving vehicles on the road?
Uber has released an official statement about the tragic accident, saying it's working with the police.
"Our hearts go out to the victim's family," said Uber spokeswoman Sarah Abboud. "We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident."