A self-driving car from Uber Technologies Inc. hit and killed a woman in Arizona on Sunday evening, what is likely the first pedestrian fatality involving a driverless vehicle. In response, Uber quickly halted its self-driving cars as the crash is investigated.
The woman was crossing a road in Tempe when the Uber vehicle, operating in autonomous mode, struck her, according to the Tempe Police Department. She was taken to a hospital, where she died from her injuries. “Uber is assisting and this is still an active investigation,” Liliana Duran, a Tempe police spokeswoman, said in an emailed statement.
Uber said Monday that it is pausing tests of all its autonomous vehicles in San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Toronto and the greater Phoenix area. “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”
As self-driving cars have begun to roll out in pilot programs around the world, the chance of a pedestrian death has become more likely. Experts have long worried about the effect deadly crashes could have on the industry.
“We’re within the phase of autonomous vehicles where we’re still learning how good they are. Whenever you release a new technology, there’s a whole bunch of unanticipated situations,” said Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s business school. “Despite the fact that humans are also prone to error, we have as a society many decades of understanding of those errors.”
Drivers relying on Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot technology have been involved in fatal car crashes. Uber has had minor incidents in the past. A self-driving Uber car ran a red light in San Francisco while the company operated in the city without regulatory approval. The California Department of Motor Vehicles eventually forced Uber to pull the cars from the road.
The National Transportation Safety Board is opening an investigation into the death and is sending a small team of investigators to Tempe, spokesman Eric Weiss said.
The NTSB opens relatively few highway accident investigations each year, but has been closely following incidents involving autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles. Last year, it partially faulted the Tesla Autopilot system for a fatal crash in Florida in 2016.