An Uber self-driving car hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Arizona, police said on Monday, marking the first fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle and a potential blow to the technology expected to transform transportation.
The ride services company said it was suspending North American tests of its self-driving vehicles, which are currently going on in Arizona, Pittsburgh and Toronto.
U.S. lawmakers have been debating legislation that would speed introduction of self-driving cars.
“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” said Democratic Senator Edward Markey, a member of the transportation committee, in a statement.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe about 10 p.m. MST Sunday (0400 GMT Monday) when she was struck by the Uber vehicle traveling at about 40 miles per hour (65 km per hour), police said. The car was in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel.
Uber and Waymo on Friday urged Congress to pass sweeping legislation to speed the introduction of self-driving cars into the United States. Some congressional Democrats have blocked the legislation over safety concerns, and Monday’s fatality could hamper passage of the bill, congressional aides said Monday.
Safety advocates called for a national moratorium on all robot car testing on public roads.
“Arizona has been the wild west of robot car testing with virtually no regulations in place,” said Consumer Watchdog, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, in a statement. “That’s why Uber and Waymo test there. When there’s no sheriff in town, people get killed.”
SSENTIAL TO UBER’S SUCCESS
Uber has said its ability to build autonomous cars is essential to its success in the rapidly changing transportation industry. The company envisions a network of autonomous cars that would be summoned through the Uber app that would supplement – and eventually replace – human-driven cars.
Uber has logged 2 million self-driving miles (3.2 million km) through December. The company has more than 100 autonomous cars testing on the roads of the greater Phoenix area, the company’s prime testing ground due to the state’s loose regulations and hospitable weather. Rain, snow and ice are particularly challenging for autonomous cars. The company also tests in Pittsburgh and Toronto.
That settlement was largely seen as a means for Uber to resume work on autonomous cars without the distraction of litigation, as it hustles to catch up with Waymo, widely seen as having the most advanced cars in the industry.