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An Uber Self-Driving Car Struck and Killed a Pedestrian in Arizona

Uber Tempe

Image via ABC 15

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An Uber self-driving car struck and killed a woman who was crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona on Sunday night, marking what is probably the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian in the U.S.

The car was in autonomous mode at the time but had a human operator behind the wheel to take control of the vehicle if necessary. The woman, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was walking outside of the crosswalk when she was hit by the car, which was traveling at 40 miles per hour. She was taken to a hospital, but later died from her injuries, Reuters reported.

In the wake of the crash, Uber has suspended all of its autonomous vehicle operations in North America. The firm was fielding self-driving cars in Arizona; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Toronto, Canada.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident,” Uber said in a statement to NPR. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also referenced the “incredibly sad news” in a tweet on Monday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said it was sending a team of regulators to investigate the crash. Due to Uber’s testing in Toronto, Canada’s transportation ministry is also reviewing the accident, Reuters reported.

While the incident is likely the first fatal self-driving crash involving a pedestrian, it’s not the first involving an autonomous vehicle. In May 2016, a Tesla Model S collided with a tractor-trailer on a Florida highway, killing the car’s driver. Investigators later pointed out that an “overreliance” on automation might have contributed to the crash.

Self-driving vehicles are currently being tested by a wide range of companies, from tech firms such as Uber, Alphabet, and Apple to traditional automakers like Ford.

The technology is largely expected to cut down on motor vehicle fatalities, but Sunday’s accident will likely raise questions about the safety of autonomous vehicles in real-world situations — especially as U.S. lawmakers debate legislation that would speed the adoption of the technology, Reuters reported.

“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” Senator Edward Markey, who is on the Senate’s transportation committee, said in a statement.

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