Outside Phoenix, Arizona, in a suburb called Tempe, a self-driving Uber SUV struck a woman around 10 PM on Sunday night. The vehicle was confirmed to be operating in self-driving mode at the time of the collision. There was an operator in the driver's seat of the vehicle at the time of the incident although it is unknown whether any attempt was made to avoid a collision.
The woman struck was a pedestrian crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk. She was taken to the hospital and later pronounced dead from her injuries. Uber has since issued a statement, "Our hearts go out to the victim’s family," and has agreed to fully cooperate with investigators on the matter.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has already sent a crash investigation team out to the scene. This marks the first time that an autonomous vehicle has been responsible for the death of a pedestrian. Although consumers have placed high levels of trust into self-driving technologies, this event could be a major setback to acceptance of autonomous vehicles.
NTSB sending team to investigate Uber crash in Tempe, Arizona. More to come.— NTSB_Newsroom (@NTSB_Newsroom) March 19, 2018
Uber has since suspended all testing of self-driving vehicles until the investigation is closed. Alphabet's Waymo and General Motors have both been testing in the Phoenix area due to its friendly stance towards self-driving vehicles. Neither company has commented on whether their plans will change as a result of this incident.
Self-driving Volvos were moved from California to Arizona after the California Department of Motor Vehicles barred Uber from testing on public roadways. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey originally welcomed new technology declaring, "Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads."
Even though the pedestrian was outside of a marked crosswalk, questions are still raised as to how software should handle similar situations in the future, assuming sensors were able to detect a human at all. Legislators will certainly be taking a further look into the situation before allowing autonomous vehicle technologies to continue testing on public roadways.