On Sunday night, March 19th, 2018, a tragic incident took place in Arizona. An autonomous car operated by the renowned company Uber hit and killed a woman. The accident took place near Mill Avenue and Curry Road in the street of Tempe and is said to be the first pedestrian death in the USA caused by self-driving cars. The victim was hit while walking outside the crosswalk. Right after the incident, Uber sent their condolences through a tweet which said, “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family.” they also told the media that they are cooperating in the investigation with the authorities of Tempe.
The Uber’s self-driving car involved in the accident was a Volvo XC90 sports vehicle, fully equipped with company’s sensing system. The car was in an autonomous mode, with a human safety driver sitting behind the wheel. The car wasn’t carrying any passengers, luckily. But the driver being present in the car at the time of accident raises a question, which even if the vehicle was in autonomous mode, could the driver have stopped this from happening when he saw the car’s system has failed in identifying a pedestrian walking in front.
The victim of this human vs. robot tragedy is a 49-year-old woman named Elaine Herzberg. She was walking with a bicycle next to her outside of the crosswalk around 10 pm on Sunday when the uber self-driving car hit her. She was taken to the hospital immediately, but because of too many wounds, she died on the way. A footage of the incident has been taken by the Arizona police and has not been released to the media yet. Officer Ronald Elcock told the sources that they have the driver under investigation, who is a 44-year-old man named Rafael Vasquez and is highly cooperative with the authorities.
The driverless vehicle testing started years ago when the Google Cars were launched, later Uber and other companies began the testings in different cities. Arizona saw this as an opportunity and invited these companies to test their self-driving cars on their roads. After this collision, Uber immediately suspended their testing operations in Tempe, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Toronto and San Francisco. It is still not known if Arizona has asked other companies to put their testings on hold for now.
The long list of companies and automakers, who have been testing their autonomous cars around the country for years have made statements saying these cars ware safer than the regular cars, but we believe that these statements have been made keeping the distracted humans out of the picture. Although the technology is almost a decade old, it has now started facing situations as human drivers do. This tragic accident is a reminder that these self-driving cars are still in the stage of experiment and require more time to be 100% safe on the road.
These self-driving cars have been built with a system which lets them detect cyclists, pedestrians or anything else to prevent themselves from getting into a crash. After this accident, it is clear that the technology needs to have more closely firmed regulations. The project director of privacy and technology with Consumer Watchdog, John M Simpson said that the main problem is coming in the interaction between these robot cars and humans, as they can not predict the human behavior accurately.
Tesla Motors was the first company to have an accident involving the self-driving car; this happened in 2016 with a Model S vehicle driving on autopilot. The sensors of the car failed to identify an 18-wheeler truck, and the trailer was crossing the highway and made towards it in full speed and had a horrible crash, killing a 40-year-old woman who was sitting behind the wheels. Few other incidents took place in between but no one was killed, but after this accident in Arizona it proves that this self-driving technology is just not ready yet.
This crash in Tempe will help in drawing general public’s attention to the self-driving cars and will result in the companies making sure that these cars don’t cause any more deaths. A Senate bill has been made, and if passed, then it will change the existing safety standards for self-driving vehicle makers and create some new vehicle laws. This incident has proven that though we have made significant progress with self-driving technology, it still has a long way to go before it becomes entirely safe for pedestrians, passengers and drivers.