Uber Self-Driving Car Kills Pedestrian Crossing Street

John Lister's picture

A pedestrian has died after being hit by a self-driving vehicle in Tempa, Arizona. It's the first time an autonomous car has collided with a person on foot, resulting in a fatality.

The car was part of a test program offered by taxi-alternative company Uber. It's now suspended its testing which was taking place on public streets in several states.

The Washington Post says the crash took place at a busy intersection of public streets. Police said the vehicle was driving northbound and hit 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street. They added that she was not within the marked crosswalk area when the collision occurred. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

Human Was In Driver Seat

At the time of the collision, the car was in self-driving mode, though a human driver sat at the wheel. There's no word yet on whether the driver attempted to take control of the vehicle before the crash.

It's the first time a pedestrian has died in such a crash involving a fully autonomous vehicle. Previous collisions with such cars have been non-fatal. However, in 2016 the driver of a Tesla died in a crash while using Autopilot mode. That's a semi-autonomous mode than combines familiar features such as cruise control with automatic steering to keep a car within its lane. (Source: nytimes.com)

Arizona In The Spotlight

This week's death will be particularly controversial as it took place on streets in Arizona. The state adopted particularly relaxed regulations on public testing of self-driving vehicles, a move widely believed to be an intentional attempt to attract tech companies. One company already operates cars without a driver at the wheel.

The involvement of Uber will also attract added attention given controversies over the company's human resources practices and the assumption that its self-driving vehicle program will eventually lead to a reduction in jobs for drivers.

Supporters of the technology point to self-driving cars having a considerably lower level of accidents per mile driven than those operated solely by human drivers. It remains to be seen whether the public will see this week's crash as evidence that the technology isn't safe or simply an inevitability as driverless cars continue to rack up the miles.

What's Your Opinion?

Should we take this death as anything more than a tragic accident? What rules should be in place for driverless technology? Should additional safeguards or restrictions be in place during test periods and what should be the threshold for 'proving' a technology is safe?

Rate this article: 
Average: 5 (7 votes)


Dennis Faas's picture

Where I'm from, all student drivers (taking driving lessons) are required to have a sign on the top of the vehicle which reads "Student Driver". This warns other drivers that the person is learning how to drive and should take necessary precautions as a result. I don't see why the same idea shouldn't be used with autonomous vehicles, along with a lit sign so it can be visible even at night.

Navy vet's picture

I really don't think the self driving car is anywhere near ready for prime time. It's an answer to a problem that doesn't exist.

f58tammy's picture

I live in Tucson and people out here are to lazy to go 30 feet and use a crosswalk or a intersection they just jump out of the bushes planted in a center divider cars be damn. Arizona has the "pedestrian always has the right of way" law which was great when cars could barley go 10mph. It is time to change that philosophy and educate people that the rules of the road are changing, drivers can not use a cell phone and drive legally in this town first ticket $100.00 fine, with a accident involved $400.00. It time to stop blaming people, places, and things for someones stupidity or laziness.

Greg1956's picture

Very sad to read this, but not surprising. The vehicle didn't recognise her.

The same thing happened happened here in Adelaide when the Transport Minister ran a display of a driverless car (http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/transport-minister-stephen-mullighan-ploughs-into-kangaroo-during-driverless-car-demonstration/news-story/35f76b7bc7f5828afb3bfe79deca0802).

Whilst the cpu and programming is moving to a point where it can react quickly enough, the technology to "see" objects is not yet good enough.

Effectively the Radar will always have trouble with things that don't give a solid bounce of the cars signal. And a bike is mostly empty space, ie it is invisible.

I think that we are rushing this technology for profit sake, and more emphasis needs to be put into the "Radar" side first.

As for the Jaywalker, the Car's system should be responding to an object in its path regardless of what and where they have come from. It doesn't know if it is meant to be there or not.

Still a sad day for the family.


Chief's picture

Sadly, it is inevitable that accidents will happen with autonomous vehicles. The fact that a pedestrian appeared suddenly out of the median wearing dark clothing after dark probably made this incident inevitable. Rather than debate about whether autonomous vehicles should exist the question should be how to make the autonomous vehicle even safer (and possibly to deal with intruders on the vehicle right-of-way more harshly). I believe the final analysis will show even a person driving the vehicle probably would not have avoided this collision.

doulosg's picture

How can you come to any realistic conclusion based on the scanty data that has been made available so far? Driver-operated vehicles kill pedestrians. Should they be outlawed?

ifopackets_10683's picture

They seem to have one.
All my other content deleted by me, the posting member.