Uber Halts Self-Driving Cars After Fatal Crash in Arizona

Self-driving operations are paused in San Francisco and other cities after an autonomous car fatally struck a woman in Tempe.

(Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A driverless Uber car in Arizona struck and killed a woman Sunday in the first known fatality involving an autonomous vehicle. 

According to local police, on Sunday around 10 p.m., a self-driving car struck a woman walking outside of a crosswalk in Tempe, Ariz., near Phoenix. The woman, identified by Bloomberg as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, died of her injuries in the hospital.

On Monday, Uber paused self-driving cars in San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, an action that a company spokesperson says is standard practice. There were no passengers in the vehicle, but a car operator was in the front while it was in autonomous mode.

In a statement, Uber said their “hearts go out to the victim’s family” as they fully cooperate with the ongoing investigation. In a tweet, CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also called the event “incredibly sad news.

The death comes two weeks before California begins allowing truly driverless cars — without an approved safety driver behind the wheel — on the state’s roads. In February, the Department of Motor Vehicles announced that the new permits would be available beginning April 2.

As the home of Uber’s headquarters, San Francisco has been bracing for the self-driving technology. Mayor Mark Farrell called on the 50 companies with testing permits to agree to voluntary safety checks, the Examiner reported earlier this month.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition supported the push and made contact with the Mayor’s Office to work with companies like Uber, Waymo, and Cruise, spokesperson Chris Cassidy says. In 2016, the group warned of the safety risk to cyclists from autonomous vehicles turning right-hook style through the bike lane.

“This is the worst nightmare for people biking next to these vehicles and we’re devastated that someone may have paid the ultimate price for Uber’s willful disregard of public safety,” Cassidy says in an email.

The Bike Coalition says the companies it spoke to support working with the city before sending self-driving cars onto the streets — something that could very well prevent a death like the one in Arizona on Sunday.

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