Developing Story

Uber self-driving car strikes and kills pedestrian while in autonomous mode

An Uber autonomous test SUV struck a pedestrian while in self-driving mode in Tempe, Arizona on Sunday night. The pedestrian, a woman, was taken to a nearby hospital where she died from her injuries. An Uber spokesperson provided the following statement, and Uber has paused all of its ongoing autonomous tests while it assists with the investigation into what happened: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”

Uber will not re-apply for self-driving car permit in California

Uber, after suspending its self-driving car operations in all markets following a fatal crash, has decided not to re-apply for its self-driving car permit in California. Uber’s current permit in California expires March 31.

“We proactively suspended our self-driving operations, including in California, immediately following the Tempe incident,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Given this, we decided to not reapply for a California permit with the understanding that our self-driving vehicles would not operate in the state in the immediate future.”

Uber’s decision not to reapply comes in tandem with a letter the DMV sent to Uber’s head of public affairs, Austin Heyworth, today. The letter pertains to the fatal self-driving car crash that happened in Tempe, Arizona last week.

“In addition to this decision to suspend testing throughout the country, Uber has indicated that it will not renew its current permit to test autonomous vehicles in California,” DMV Deputy Director/Chief Counsel Brian Soublet wrote in the letter. “By the terms of its current permit, Uber’s authority to test autonomous vehicles on California public roads will end on March 31, 2018.”

This comes following Arizona’s decision to block Uber’s self-driving cars in its city. In Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Ducey said the video from the accident was “disturbing and alarming.”

California requires a number of things from autonomous car makers, like special vehicle registrations for the cars and the car operators, accident report submissions as well as reports pertaining to when and how often a safety driver needs to take over.

If Uber wants to at some point continue its self-driving car tests in California, the company will need to apply for a new permit, as well as “address any follow-up analysis or investigations from the recent crash in Arizona,” Soublet wrote. Uber may also need to set up a meeting with the DMV.

Tempe police chief says Uber “preliminarily…would likely not be at fault” for fatal crash

The chief of police in Tempe, Arizona, where an Uber self-driving car just hit and killed a pedestrian, has told the San Francisco Chronicle that “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident.”

Chief Sylvia Moir explained after viewing the car’s own video of the event that “she came from the shadows right into the roadway,” and that “it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode.”

A lighted crosswalk was nearby but the place where the accident occurred was in the dark. The car would almost certainly have been aware of the pedestrian, but it’s also possible that she moved out in front of the car faster than the car could reasonably be stopped.

The details are known only to Uber and the authorities at present and it wouldn’t be right to speculate too far, but Moir certainly seems to suggest that the latter scenario is a possibility.

Government agencies react to Uber’s fatal self-driving car accident

Earlier today, news broke of a fatal crash involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona. In response, Uber halted its self-driving car programs where it currently operates, including in Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Francisco and Phoenix. The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell and others have since released statements about the crash.

In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Temple. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.

“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”

Over in Tempe, Mitchell called the accident “tragic,” saying the city grieves for Elaine Herzberg, the woman who lost her life.

“The City of Tempe has been supportive of autonomous vehicle testing because of the innovation and promise the technology may offer in many areas, including transportation options for disabled residents and seniors,” Mayor Mitchell said in a statement. “All indications we have had in the past show that traffic laws are being obeyed by the companies testing here.”

Moving forward, the city of Tempe and its police department will look into the accident to try to figure out what happened, Mitchell said. In the meantime, Mitchell said he supports the step Uber has taken to temporarily suspend its self-driving tests.

Over in California, where Uber has also suspended its self-driving car tests, the DMV says it “takes the safe operation of our autonomous vehicle permit holders very seriously,” a DMV spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch.

“The California DMV has many requirements in place for testing permit holders and requires collision reports and annual disengagement reports,” the spokesperson said. “We are aware of the Uber crash in Arizona, but we have not been briefed on the details of the crash at this time. We plan to follow up with Uber to get more information.”

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay), who is also chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, also chimed in, saying his “heart goes out to the family of the victim.”

He added,

Unlike Arizona, California has taken a safety driven approach when developing autonomous vehicle regulations. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives a year, but they have to be tested properly to protect the public. My Committee plans on having a hearing in May that will focus on the safety of these vehicles.

Earlier today, the National Safety Transportation Board announced it would conduct its own field investigation. That came after Uber’s statement, in which the company expressed its condolences and said the company is working with local authorities in their investigation.

I’ll update this story as I learn more.

Uber’s fatal self-driving car crash prompts NTSB investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board is opening an investigation into the fatal accident involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona.

Uber’s self-driving car accident that resulted in a woman’s death raises a number of questions about insurance and liability. Although the car was in self-driving mode, there was a safety driver behind the wheel who theoretically should have been able to intervene.

Uber has since halted its self-driving car tests in Arizona, Pittsburgh and California. Last year, the NTSB looked into a 2016 accident involving Tesla’s Autopilot system in Florida. The NTSB partially faulted Tesla for the fatal crash, saying the system operated as intended but that the driver’s inattentiveness, due to over-reliance on the Autopilot system, resulted in the accident.

In an earlier statement to TechCrunch, an Uber spokesperson said, “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”

Uber self-driving test car involved in accident resulting in pedestrian death

An autonomous Uber test SUV driving in Tempe, Arizona was involved in a fatal collision last night, and the Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time the accident occurred, according to Tempe Police (via Daisuke Wakabayashi).

The Uber SUV was driving northbound, and a woman crossed in its path outside of a crosswalk, at which point she was struck by the vehicle. She was later taken to hospital, as first reported by local Arizona ABC news affiliate ABC 15, where she died as a result of her injuries.

As is required for Uber’s autonomous test vehicles operating on public roads, the AV had a safety driver at the wheel. Safety drivers are in place in order to be able to take control of the autonomous test vehicle in case the self-driving system should fail or appear to be at risk of endangering others on the road. No other passengers were in the vehicle at the time of this accident.

Uber has paused all of its AV testing operations as a result of this accident, across all cities where it operates, including Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Francisco and Phoenix.

Uber provided the following statement regarding the incident to TechCrunch:

Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.

This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has resulted in a human death, and that has huge implications for the future of AVs and their use on roads. It’s possible the safety driver involved could be held legally responsible, as their role is to ensure safe operation of the vehicle, but in many ways the outcome of this incident will define the path forward for AV regulation.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed sympathy for the victim’s family on Twitter, and reiterated that Uber is working with local authorities to determine what exactly occurred.