Arizona’s ABC 15 is reporting what appears to be the first death attributed to a driverless car.
On Sunday night in Tempe, a self-driving vehicle from Uber’s test program collided with 49 year old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. It’s being reported that she was walking outside of the crosswalk when she was struck. She was then taken to the hospital where she later died of her injuries.
The vehicle was in self-driving mode at the time of the incident, but also had a human driver on board, a precaution that many companies are taking as they work through the test phase. It’s not clear whether the driver observed the pedestrian in this case, or made any attempt to take over.
Uber has been testing cars in Tempe for about a year, though the company says it is suspending its operations there, as well as in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto, as it investigates the matter. The National Transportation Safety Board has also said it will send investigators to the scene.
While there have been previous incidents between humans and driverless cars – most recently, we reported on a lawsuit filed by a man in California after his motorcycle was involved in a collision with a GM driverless test car – this incident will likely bring up more discussion around how autonomous vehicles respond to variables that are unexpected: in this case, a person perhaps walking in an unexpected area. Both Apple and Google have been reportedly working on sophisticated pedestrian detection technology, but as many companies race to be first to market, one wonders which core technologies around safety can and should be required for all autonomous vehicle models.
There’s still so much to work out as this technology continues to develop, and a tragedy like this one could mean a driverless future is still quite a long way out.