Cities With Self-Driving Car Programs Respond to Uber Death

Are autonomous vehicles a danger to pedestrians?

by Catie Keck

Following news that a woman was killed Sunday in Tempe, Arizona, after she was hit by one of Uber’s self-driving cars, the company suspended its pilot programs in the city, as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto. Now, officials in these and other cities tell Inverse that safety is their greatest priority, which raises questions about the future of pilot programs nationwide.

Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell called the incident “tragic” in a statement provided to Inverse, adding that he supported Uber’s decision to “temporarily suspend” its program while an investigation is underway. However, a spokesperson for Mitchell told Inverse the city did not plan to end the program indefinitely.

“The City of Tempe has been supportive of autonomous vehicle testing because of the innovation and promise the technology may offer in many areas, including transportation options for disabled residents and seniors. Testing must occur safely,” Mitchell said in the statement. “All indications we have had in the past show that traffic laws are being obeyed by the companies testing here. Our city leadership and Tempe Police will pursue any and all answers to what happened in order to ensure safety moving forward.”

Uber's self-driving car technology moves the steering wheel autonomously in this video released by the company.


A spokesperson for the office of Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto told Inverse that although Uber had suspended the pilot program in its city while an investigation is ongoing, “There is no indication that the event in Tempe will [affect] Pittsburgh.”

In New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last year autonomous car testing would soon be arriving, a spokesperson said it would be reviewing the incident in Tempe.

“Public safety is our number one priority and we will of course review the findings of the NTSB’s investigation into the tragic crash in Arizona,” Cuomo’s transportation spokesman Peter Ajemian told Inverse. Ajemian did not specify whether the city had any plans to end its autonomous car program as a result of the incident in Tempe.

The woman, identified as 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was killed late Sunday while crossing the street, and all indications seem to lift the blame from Uber’s vehicle. While the car was in “rolling in autonomous mode” at the time of the incident, police told The San Francisco Chronicle that the accident would have been hard to avoid in “any kind of mode [autonomous or human-driven],” as Herzberg reportedly “came from the shadows right into the roadway.”

Despite Uber’s move to suspend its pilot programs nationwide, at least for the time being, there is still a growing number of autonomous vehicle tests underway in other cities throughout the nation. Will Uber’s competitors in the autonomous vehicle space follow suit?