Self-driving car kills pedestrian for the first time, prompting Uber to halt autonomous taxi trial

Vehicles have been pulled off the roads across North America

Andrew Griffin
Monday 19 March 2018 18:05
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Uber: A self-driving car has killed a pedestrian for the first time ever

A self-driving car has killed a pedestrian for the first time ever.

The autonomous car, operated by Uber, struck a pedestrian and killed them in what is thought to be the first death of its kind. The autonomous taxi was operating as part of a trial that Uber hoped would represent the future, but has now been suspended.

At the time of the accident, the car was driving itself in autonomous mode, Tempe police said. There was a vehicle operator behind the wheel, but they weren’t in control of the car at the time of the crash.

“The vehicle was travelling northbound ... when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle,” police said in a statement. Officials did not make clear whether the accident had happened on Sunday night or Monday morning.

The woman died in hospital and has not been named.

A spokesman for Uber Technologies Inc said the company was suspending its North American tests. The company had been testing its autonomous cars in Phoenix and Tempe in Arizona, as well as a range of other cities including Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto, all of which have now been suspended.

In a tweet, Uber expressed its condolences and said the company was fully cooperating with authorities. Police confirmed that Uber was helping with the investigation.

“Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona,” wrote Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi in a separate tweet. “We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.”

People have died in crashes involving vehicles that are driving themselves before. But this is thought to be the first time that a pedestrian has died after being hit by a self-driving vehicle.

Uber’s autonomous taxis, like the self-driving cars made by other companies, use a series of sensors built into the the car to spot pedestrians, cyclists and other cars, feeding that into a computer that is able to steer and accelerate. Until recently, they have required a real person to be sat in the front of the car and ready to take over – but recently California officials approved the testing of such vehicles without humans in the front seats.

Uber started trialling autonomous taxis in 2016, though they have always had human drivers sat in their front seat. The company has suggested that it sees such self-driving cars as the future of its business, potentially allowing it to have cars operate themselves rather than pay people to drive taxis.

The company was forced to take the cars off the road temporarily almost a year ago, when another crash in Arizona involving the self-driving vehicles led to a major investigation. The car didn’t kill anyone in that crash but had collided with another road vehicle.

The cars have also been involved in smaller issues, such as running red lights.

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