The fatal injuries of an Arizona woman hit by an Uber autonomous vehicle marks the first non-driver fatality involving self-driving cars and prompted Uber to suspend its testing program.
Autonomous Vehicle Death Raises Safety Concerns
In March, Uber Technologies pulled its self-driving cars off the roads due to a fatal accident with a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Law enforcement that investigated the accident reported that the Uber vehicle was in a self-driving mode with a human behind the wheel when it hit a woman crossing the street with her bicycle. Accident reports state that the vehicle was traveling at 40 mph at the time of the accident and showed no signs of slowing down as it approached the pedestrian. The woman was rushed to a nearby hospital, but later died from her injuries. This is the first U.S. death involving a self-driving vehicle.
The fatality confirmed fears of many safety experts who have expressed concerns about driverless vehicle safety. Technology companies and automakers have been testing autonomous vehicles for a decade and have invested billions of dollars to replace human drivers with computers. They contend that autonomous technology will save thousands of lives by eliminating human error. However, as the technology begins encountering some of the unpredictable situations that human drivers face, autonomous technology experts are still struggling with adjusting the computers for human unpredictable driving behaviors. Current testing requires a human driver behind the wheel as a safety backup, but research shows that it’s often difficult for drivers to disengage autonomous mode and take control of a fast-moving vehicle.
According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA), 94 percent of car crashes involve human error, but they express safety concerns about self-driving cars without further testing. NHTSA states that autonomous cars use a complicated data system created by radar, lasers, and cameras to identify obstacles, other vehicles, and pedestrians. These computer vision systems can experience detection problems that put other drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians at risk.
The recent pedestrian fatality is expected to have a major impact on autonomous technology. Uber has suspended testing operations in Tempe, Pittsburg, San Francisco, and Toronto. Other self-driving vehicle giants like General Motors, Toyota, and Alphabet are also slowing down testing operations until further safety studies are done.