Listen Now

Uber Say It Will Cooperate With Investigation After Pedestrian Killed In Arizona

Mar 19, 2018
Originally published on March 19, 2018 7:46 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A self-driving car operated by Uber struck and killed a woman this weekend. It happened in Tempe, Ariz., and is thought to be the first pedestrian death involving an autonomous vehicle on a public road. NPR's Laura Sydell covers tech, and she joins us now to talk about the accident. Hey, Laura.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: What exactly happened?

SYDELL: Well, the Tempe Police Department says at around 10 p.m. Sunday night, an Uber self-driving vehicle hit a pedestrian crossing the road outside of a crosswalk. She was walking her bicycle. They've identified her as a 49-year-old woman. She was taken to a local hospital where she died from injuries inflicted by the crash.

CHANG: And what do we know about the car?

SYDELL: Well, Uber's been testing self-driving vehicles around Tempe and Phoenix, and this was one of those cars. In this case, there was actually a person in the car. And the person is supposed to take over if there is an emergency. Unfortunately it doesn't look like that happened here. While we don't know what caused the accident, the victim was crossing outside of a crosswalk with her bike. And one of the big issues with autonomous vehicles is getting them to respond to unpredictable human behavior.

CHANG: And that's not what happened here. How has Uber responded to all of this?

SYDELL: The company says it's fully cooperating with authorities, and in a statement, it said, our hearts go out to the victim's family. For now, Uber says it is suspending testing of autonomous vehicles in North America. And that's around the Phoenix area. Uber also has vehicles in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

CHANG: You know, one thing that a lot of the companies developing self-driving cars talk about is that these cars will be safer than cars with human drivers. Do you think an accident like this will slow down the adoption of these cars?

SYDELL: Well, you know, we can't know for sure how this will impact the deployment of autonomous vehicles, but it certainly looks like the kind of event that's going to feed the critics. More than 20 states have authorized self-driving cars. Arizona's been particularly welcoming. And the mayor of Tempe, though, tweeted out in a statement saying that the city's been supportive of autonomous vehicles because they're promised for disabled residents and seniors. But he said testing's got to happen safely. And Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts issued a statement saying that the accident underscores why we have to be cautious testing these technologies on public roads.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Laura Sydell. Thank you so much, Laura.

SYDELL: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.