Uber’s fully autonomous car program has suffered a serious setback after one of its vehicles hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This is the first time an autonomous vehicle operating in self-driving mode has caused a fatality. The self-driving Uber struck a woman crossing a street in Tempe.
The 49-year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg, was pushing a bicycle outside the lines of a crosswalk when she was struck around 10:00 pm on March 18, 2018. The self-driving Uber was accompanied by a human backup driver at the wheel. Tempe local authorities have not determined fault but urged people to use crosswalks.
Following the fatality, Uber immediately suspended all road-testing of self-driving car operations in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto. Uber has been testing self-driving cars for months as it trying to get ahead of its competitors.
Critics caution the technology and automotive industry is rushing premature technology onto the roads. The fatality could potentially hurt the public image of the technology, and lead to a push for more government regulations.
On the other hand, advocates say human error is more dangerous than autonomous driving. Self-driving vehicles don’t get sleepy, don’t drive drunk and aren’t distracted by texting. Although autonomous vehicles have faults, they can reduce more than 40,000 traffic deaths per year in the U.S. alone. Ninety-four percent of which are caused by human error.
This sad tragedy reminds the public, technology and automotive industries, and policy makers to be more aware. First, always use caution when crossing the street. Second, technology is not always accurate. Third, regulations need to be set in place as technological advancements continue to grow.