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Fatal Uber crash 'highlights challenges of autonomous cars alongside human drivers'

21 March 2018

Elaine Herzberg was pushing a bicycle across the street in Tempe, Arizona at around 10pm on Sunday evening when she was struck by a vehicle.

This upward trend in pedestrian deaths is, sadly, not new; pedestrian fatalities have climbed steadily in 6 out of the 7 years between 2009 and 2016, resulting in almost 2,000 more deaths per year in 2016 than in 2009, according to the Governor's Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit implemented to address behavioral safety issues among drivers.

The Tempe police is actively working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to determine who is at fault for the accident. All test vehicles are required to have a qualified safety driver who is ready to take control, until autonomous vehicle trials demonstrate that the technology is ready for fully autonomous operations.

Victim: Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed when she was hit by the Uber on Sunday night.

Uber immediately said it suspended testing of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Ariz., Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Responding to the news, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a tweet: "Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona".

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The Maricopa County Attorney's Office in Phoenix said it was awaiting the results of an investigation by Tempe police before reviewing whether any charges should be filed. She highlighted a 2016 IMechE case study, which called for public consultations, new regulations and driver training before automated cars become fully legal. This incident appears to be one of those "corner cases" that Elon Musk refers to often as being the most hard for software engineers to deal with.

Self-driving cars are designed with the belief that computers can operate vehicles better than human. Uber's highly publicized autonomous auto project has been mired in controversy for at least the past year.

A self-driving Uber SUV struck and killed a pedestrian on a street Sunday in Tempe, Arizona. A year ago saw Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot system cleared of defects following a seven-month investigation into a fatal crash in 2016.

A report from the US National Vehicle Crash Causation Survey revealed that "94% of all accidents in the US are caused by human error (i.e. drivers)".

In the UK, Gatwick Airport is planning to test self-driving shuttle buses this summer.

The Teamsters union has urged lawmakers to slow legislation that would preempt state laws and allow companies to deploy self-driving cars without steering wheels, foot pedals or other features in greater numbers than possible now.

Fatal Uber crash 'highlights challenges of autonomous cars alongside human drivers'