Self-driving car kills female pedestrian in U.S.‎

Uber self-driving car [Photo Credit: CarAndBike]

An American woman has been killed by a self-driving car operated by ride-hailing firm, Uber, local media reports said.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, was said to be crossing a road with a bicycle in Tempe, Arizona, when she was hit by an autonomous vehicle owned by Uber, police said at a media briefing after the incident. The accident occurred at about 10:00 p.m. and a driver was said to be behind the wheel but failed to take charge to avert the disaster.

The fatal accident has been deemed the first involving an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian in the United States, a development that could deal a heavy blow to the new technology.

The police described Ms. Herzberg as a homeless woman, but did not immediately clarify whether she had any form of impairment prior to the accident. She was initially unconscious after the accident, but soon died by the time she arrived at the hospital.

Uber’s operators are supposed to take charge of an autonomous vehicle if it can’t negotiate a traffic situation and to drive manually in locations where the car is not programmed to drive itself.

The police said the vehicle that killed Ms. Herzberg has cameras and lidar to detect objects and another camera that focuses on occupants. Lidar is similar to a radar detector but uses light instead of radio waves to detect objects.

“It will definitely assist in the investigation, without a doubt,” Tempe police spokesperson Ronald Elcock said at the press briefing.

Uber responded to the accident by suspending all self-driving car operations in United States and Canada. Uber had been testing self-driving cars at restricted parts of Tempe and Scottsdale, Arizona, as well as other parts of the U.S. and Canada.

“Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened,” Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO, said on Twitter Monday night.

There are preliminary indications that the Uber vehicle may not be at fault in the accident, according to latest media reports.

“I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident, either,” Sylvia Moir, a police chief in Arizona, was quoted as saying by San Francisco Chronicle Monday night.

The crash comes amidst growing concerns by some automotive experts that self-driving cars should not be backed by legislation as yet. The concerns intensified after a driver was killed while testing a Tesla Model S in an autonomous mode in Florida, U.S.

The vehicle failed to recognise a truck across the road ahead. U.S. investigators found that the vehicle was to blame for the accident and recommended that the technology needs more improvements to be safe for human use.

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