Uber’s program of self-driving cars in several cities across the U.S. has resulted in the tragic death Sunday, March 18, 2018, of a pedestrian on a street in Tempe, Arizona, the first death in the U.S. involving self-driving vehicles. Uber released a statement that it was pausing its self-driving car operations in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.
This incident follows the temporary suspension of all self-driving vehicles in Arizona last year following a crash of one of its vehicles, a Volvo SUV. The company first began testing self-driving cars in California in 2016, but state regulators called a halt to the program in San Francisco when it was found that the vehicles were running red lights. On Feb. 26, 2018, California approved the testing of self-driving cars on public roads without humans aboard. The new law calls for remote operators to be able to control the car. Permits are expected to be issued as early as April 2.
The crash involving the death of a 48-year-old Tempe woman who was walking her bicycle reportedly was in an autonomous mode, but the XC90 sport vehicle operator was inside the car at the time that reportedly was traveling about 40 miles per hour. The incident occurred about 10 p.m. Police reported they have video of the incident but have not released it to the public. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent investigative teams to Tempe.
Billions has been spent on research and development of these types of vehicles. Robotic cars are supposed to have sensors and cameras built in to the vehicles to detect pedestrians and cyclists and to prevent crashes. Manufacturers of these autonomous vehicles tout that this technology is superior to human drivers.
Companies manufacturing autonomous vehicles await legislation that would put the federal government in charge of vehicle design, construction, performance and allow more testing–as many as 100,000 vehicles per manufacturer–all over the country. The bill, called the Self Drive Act, passed in the House last fall, but the companion Senate bill, the AV Start Act, has been held up by some senators who question whether the young technology needs more aggressive oversight. To learn about the issues in the bill – from privacy to pre-emption – click here.