Did Uber Reach Too Far in Self-Driving Car Initiative?
Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old resident of Tempe, Arizona, was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber Volvo XC90 SUV on March 18, 2018. She was hit while walking her bike across the street. The SUV that hit her was travelling at 40 miles per hour in a 35 mile per hour zone. Early indications show no signs that the vehicle made any attempt to slow down before hitting Herzberg.
At the time of the crash, Rafael Vasquez, a test driver for Uber, was behind the wheel as a safety measure. But when the accident occurred, the vehicle was in fully autonomous mode. This means Vasquez was not controlling the SUV when the crash happened, because it was driving itself.
This is believed to be the first road fatality that happened when the vehicle driving was fully autonomous. Uber and other companies have been testing self-driving cars in Arizona for a while now. As a result of the accident, Uber announced a decision to halt testing of autonomous vehicles in North America for the time being.
What Caused the Accident?
Because of the unique circumstances of the crash, police and legal officials do not yet know where responsibility for the accident will lay. Rafael Vasquez was behind the wheel when the crash happened, but the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office hasn’t yet determined whether charges will be filed against him.
The apparent cause of the accident was that there was a failure in the autonomous driving function, which either did not recognize Herzberg as something to be avoided or did not detect her at all. The Tempe Police Department will have to investigate to find the cause. Whether or not Vasquez will be held responsible for the accident is still unknown.
Is Uber Moving Too Fast?
Uber and other self-driving vehicle companies are aiming to have self-driving products on the mass market by 2020. However, accidents like this hint that Uber may be sacrificing safety for speed of development. It remains to be seen what effect the accident will have on the growth of the new industry.
Waymo, a self-driving company run through Google’s parent company, is aiming to launch a self-driving service in Phoenix, Arizona, during 2018. GM and Intel are also testing their self-driving vehicles in Arizona. (Because of the rarity of inclement weather in Arizona, it has become a hub for self-driving testing.) With competition heated and potentially huge rewards for the first company to market, it’s possible that some of these companies might be tempted to cut corners. Whether or not Uber did that will have to be determined.
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