A self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona Sunday night, in what appears to be the first pedestrian death involving a self-driving vehicle. Although there was a vehicle operator in the car, Tempe police confirmed that the vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the accident. The victim was transported to a nearby hospital, where she died.
This isn’t the first death involving a self-driving vehicle: in 2016, a Tesla car in Autopilot mode collided with a truck in Florida, striking the tractor trailer as the truck crossed a divided highway. According to Tesla, “neither the Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.” The Tesla passed under the trailer, causing the driver’s death. The National Transportation Safety Board ruled that driver errors, an overreliance on automation, and a lack of safeguards were to blame.
Nor is this the first Uber self-driving car involved in an accident. Uber temporarily suspended its self-driving cars in Arizona after a collision last March, although there were no serious injuries, and it was unclear whether that vehicle was in self-driving mode at the time of the accident. Uber had moved its self-driving program to Arizona a month earlier, after California banned driverless cars due to a lack of required permits. In addition, there had been reports of such vehicles running red lights in San Francisco and neighboring areas.
Uber has once again halted its self-driving car tests in the wake of Sunday night’s accident. “Our hearts to out the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this accident,” the company said in a statement. The National Transportation Safety Board announced it will open an investigation. the NTSB has appeared more cautious about the introduction of self-driving vehicles in contrast with the Department of Transportation, which just last Tuesday revised its self-driving vehicles policy with the intent of removing current obstacles to testing such vehicles.
While this accident is both tragic on a personal level and will certainly damage the reputation of self-driving cars in general, broad adoption of automated vehicles in the future remains almost certain. Since Tesla revealed its self-driving semi truck last November, for example, at least sixteen companies have placed orders–including massive organizations like Walmart, PepsiCo and Anheuser Busch.