Woman Killed in First Fully-Autonomous Vehicle Crash

Ride-hailing app Uber has recently launched a testing program for autonomous vehicles in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Toronto, among other areas. But the company pulled its fleet of self-driving cars immediately following a fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona on Sunday night. Although a 2016 accident involving a partially-autonomous Tesla resulted in a man’s death, this most recent tragedy was the first to involve a fully-autonomous vehicle. If approved, Uber’s fleet is intended to fully replace human drivers.

As 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg walked her bike across a Tempe street on Sunday night, she was struck and killed by an autonomous Uber SUV. Although 44-year-old Uber test driver Rafael Vasquez was in the driver seat at the time of the crash, the vehicle was in self-driving mode.

“The vehicle involved is one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles,” said Tempe police in a statement earlier this week. “It was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision, with a vehicle operator behind the wheel.” A Boston motor vehicle accident lawyer can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

Under Investigation

According to reports, the Volvo XC90 was going about 40 mph in a 35 mph zone when the crash occurred. Police went on to say that the SUV did not appear to slow down prior to the crash. The accident is still under investigation by the Tempe Police Department and the National Transportation Safety Board. To date, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office has yet to determine if charges will be filed in this case.

The Challenge of Cyclists and Pedestrians

Although self-driving advocates say autonomous vehicles will eventually be significantly safer than human-driven vehicles, the technology still has a long way to go. For starters, self-driving vehicles do much better on highways – where there are fewer variables – than on side roads where bicyclists and pedestrians present a challenge. A MA motor vehicle accident attorney can help you recover damages if you’ve been injured due to another’s negligence.

This isn’t the first time Uber has pulled its self-driving fleet. During an investigation of a 2017 crash in which an autonomous vehicle landed on its side in Tempe, the company grounded its vehicles. It may seem ironic that both Uber self-driving crashes occurred in Tempe, but Arizona is pioneering the development of autonomous vehicles. In fact, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey recently signed an executive order that permits self-driving cars to be tested in AZ with no test driver on board.

Why Arizona?

Self-driving car service, Waymo, is being launched later this year in Phoenix, and several other companies – including GM and Intel – are testing self-driving technology throughout the state. Why Arizona? Well, for starters, inclement weather is rare. In addition to the warm climate, the lack of rain is appealing to companies who are, presumably, striving for accident-free testing. No word yet on how self-driving vehicles will handle New England winters…

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