Woman dies in Arizona after being hit by self-driving car

3 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineMarch 20, 2018

Uber is pausing autonomous car tests in all cities following the death of a woman in Arizona who was hit by an Uber self-driving car.

A Tempe Police Department spokesperson said 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was crossing the road outside of a designated crossing in Tempe, Arizona when she was struck by the Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode under the supervision of a human safety driver.

This is the first pedestrian fatality, although in 2016 a Tesla employee was killed while operating a self-driving car.

On Monday Uber Comms tweeted: “Our hearts go out to the victim‘s family. We‘re fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident.”

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir said that video footage taken from cameras equipped to the autonomous Volvo SUV potentially shift the blame to the victim herself, rather than the vehicle. Moir said Herzberg came from the shadows and was about 100 yards (91 metres) from a crossing.

Michael Cameron, author of an upcoming Law Foundation report on driverless vehicles in New Zealand, says that driverless vehicles will be safer than the human-controlled vehicles.

“Some regulation is necessary, but any regulation that slows down the adoption of driverless technology will likely cost many more lives than it saves.”

Cameron says in 1896, 45-year-old Bridget Driscoll became the first recorded pedestrian to be killed by a motor vehicle, and in 2018, it appears that 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg has become the first pedestrian to be killed by a driverless vehicle.

“Back in 1896, the nascent motor vehicle industry managed to avoid a regulatory backlash from the Driscoll tragedy. But these are different times. There have already been calls for tighter regulations by the director of Consumer Watchdog in the US. The irony is that, this time around, we actually have a technology that is safer than the existing technology it will replace.

“The fact the vehicle wasn‘t technically driverless and had a supervising driver constantly ready to take over is a detail likely to be lost in the response, but it is extremely important. While we won‘t know for sure until the investigation is complete, the supervising driver would have been a highly skilled professional, and he or she also failed to avoid Ms Herzberg.”