The Tempe Arizona Police Department released disturbing video footage Wednesday evening of Uber’s autonomous car striking a pedestrian. The collision, which took place late Sunday in Arizona, is the first known fatal accident involving a self-driving car that has led Uber and a select few other firms to pause autonomy tests. The authority’s Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating the incident.
The Volvo sports utility vehicle, operated by Uber’s autonomous technology, with a human in the driver’s seat ready to take over, was driving at 38 mph at 10 p.m. when it struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing the road with her bicycle. Uber’s communications team described the video as “disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones. Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”
Preliminary investigations suggest the driver was not aware of Herzberg before the collision. Sylvia Moir, Tempe police chief, told reporters at a Sunday press conference that “it’s very clear” both human and autonomous drivers would have struggled to avoid the incident “based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.” Moir also noted that there was a crosswalk about 100 yards away.
Friends of Herzberg have drawn issue with this depiction of events, with friend Carole Kimmerle telling The Guardian that Herzberg “was not in anyway unsafe. She rode a bike everywhere. She was very cautious of the laws.” Another friend, Deniel Klapthor, called for a stronger punishment than a simple ban on Uber’s autonomous cars.
Uber, along with Toyota and nuTonomy, has paused its autonomous car project just days after it triumphantly announced the start of an autonomous truck program in Arizona. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation separate to the Tempe police, while Congress is considering an AV START bill that would change autonomous car regulations.
The incident has the potential to set the stage for autonomous cars over the next few years. Legislators may rethink their approach to regulation, while car companies will want to avoid anything like this from happening again.