On Sunday night, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was fatally struck by a self-driving Uber vehicle as she crossed the road in Tempe, Arizona.The Volvo was in automated mode, and “safety driver” Rafaela Vasquez was behind the wheel in order to monitor the vehicle.
When Herzberg, who was homeless at the time, crossed a darkened roadway with her bag-laden bicycle, neither the car nor Vasquez had time to react, and the vehicle struck and killed Herzberg.
The fatal accident involving a pedestrian and an Uber self-driving car brings new attention to the technology but experts say that human drivers are a much bigger threat https://t.co/40twvnGmOb pic.twitter.com/IWJEXFMhDG
— CNN (@CNN) March 21, 2018
This is the first incident of a pedestrian fatality involving a self-driving car.
The police in Tempe have released footage from the accident, which shows both Herzberg crossing the road and Vasquez’s shocked expression from inside the vehicle. (The actual collision is not shown.)
The police have released video showing the final moments before an Uber self-driving car struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg. It’s exactly the kind of crash self-driving cars are made to avoid: https://t.co/eSPgg5gKJz pic.twitter.com/G8Mo3II6rO
— WIRED (@WIRED) March 22, 2018
“The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them,” says Sylvia Moir, the Tempe police chief. “It would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode.”
Uber released a statement about the unfortunate accident, stating: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We’re fully cooperating with Tempe Police and local authorities as they investigate this incident. The video is 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.”
This incident does not appear to have placed a damper on the quest to perfect self-driving vehicles.
“Self-driving cars don’t pose any more of a risk to pedestrians, bicyclists or other cars than cars piloted by humans,” CNN reports. “There were an estimated 40,000 traffic fatalities on US roads last year, according to the National Safety Council, and more than 90% of them were caused by human error.”