A self-driving Uber car that was involved in a traffic accident early Monday in Tempe, Arizona, which resulted in a pedestrian death was not at fault for the crash, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, citing local police chief Sylvia Moir. The autonomous Volvo XC90 SUV had a human backup driver as mandated by local regulations but the person was unable to take control of the vehicle in time to prevent the crash, having testified the incident happened in a “flash,” Ms. Moir said. The vehicle was traveling at 38mph in a 35mph zone, according to the initial investigation. The victim was unconscious following the impact and was transported to a local hospital where she was identified as the 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg before succumbing to her wounds, as per the same report.
The woman may have been returning from a store, having been pushing a bicycle carrying numerous plastic shopping bags outside of a crosswalk when she walked out in front of the self-driving Volvo XC90 which made no attempts to break, the police chief said, adding that local authorities suspect the victim has been homeless. Much like other members of Uber’s self-driving fleet, the SUV in question was equipped with two video cameras, both of which were recording at the time of the incident. Tempe police say the inspection of the footage shows the woman abruptly “came from the shadows right into the roadway” in a manner that makes it “very clear” a collision was difficult to avoid, regardless of whether the vehicle that ended up hitting the victim had a human driver or not. The videos of the accident haven’t been released so far and it’s presently unclear whether the competent Police Department has any intentions to publicize them at a later date. The vehicle involved in the crash wasn’t carrying any passengers and the case is still under active investigation.
The collision marks the world’s first traffic accident involving a self-driving car that resulted in a pedestrian death and is presently also being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board with whom TPD is collaborating. Uber halted all of its autonomous vehicle testing projects in the country following the incident but is expected to resume it shortly. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell called the decision to pause the trials “a responsible step to take,” adding that he doesn’t want to jump to any conclusions until the official probe is resolved. “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with authorities and investigations of this incident,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement provided to AndroidHeadlines but declined to comment any further.
During a Monday press conference, Ms. Moir said she can only recall one other self-driving accident in her precinct, referring to a crash that left another Uber-owned autonomous Volvo XC90 flipped on its side just under a year ago. The LiDAR-equipped vehicle wasn’t at fault for that crash either, an official investigation showed. Uber’s recent move to halt all testing in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto is understood to be part of the company’s standard practices for cases of traffic accidents involving its vehicles. Last year’s Tempe crash also led the startup to pause its nationwide trials for several days. According to a February report from the National Safety Council, traffic accidents resulted in more than 40,000 deaths in the United States last year.