March 28, 2018

Uber Automated Vehicle Fatal Crash

On March 18, 2018, a woman was killed while walking her bicycle mid-block across a dark street in Tempe, Arizona.  She was struck by an Uber vehicle that was part of the company’s automated test fleet.  While the vehicle was in self-driving mode at the time of the accident, a driver was at the wheel to take control if necessary.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the collision.  NTSB writes that the investigation will address the vehicle’s operating condition, driver-vehicle interaction, and pedestrian detection by the vehicle or driver. 

Autonomous vehicles are widely viewed as a means to drastically reduce the number of vehicle collisions and resulting deaths and injuries. Both industry and government agencies have been working to accelerate their insertion into mainstream transportation.

Uber has been testing autonomous vehicles on public roads since 2016 and suspended its testing in Arizona, Pittsburg, San Francisco, and Toronto immediately after the collision.  Arizona’s governor has since indefinitely suspended Uber’s right to operate autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state.  Nvidia, the company that supplied the computing platform used by Uber’s self-driving fleet, has suspended testing on public roads including their testing in Japan and Germany.  Toyota has also announced suspension of its autonomous vehicle testing on public roads.

Regardless of whether the NTSB concludes that Uber’s autonomous vehicle should have been able to avoid striking the pedestrian, it remains to be seen to what extent this tragic incident hinders the push for self-driving vehicles.