Yesterday, we learned that Uber was halting all of its self-driving tests after one of the company’s self-driving cars struck a pedestrian in Tempe, AZ, on Sunday. The pedestrian later died at the hospital from injuries sustained in the accident. Now, it appears that though Uber may not be at fault for the accident.
Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle that when looking at the footage from the vehicle’s on-board cameras, “it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how [the pedestrian] came from the shadows right into the roadway.”
While the vehicle had a safety driver, the car was in autonomous mode. According to the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, “it was like a flash,” when the pedestrian abruptly stepped out from a center median in front of the car. “His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision,” Moir stated to the San Francisco Chronicle. The vehicle was apparently traveling at 38 mph in a 35 zone. From the footage, it did not appear that the pedestrian was using a crosswalk, but looking at the street design, it did make it appear as if that section was inviting people to cross.
A super-weird aspect of this crash site is that it occurred at a place where a beautiful brick-paved diagonal walking path was provided across the median, along with a sign instructing people not to use it. This is beyond pedestrian-hostile design; it's damn-near entrapment. pic.twitter.com/ZaHw9bIIrR
— EPD (@EricPaulDennis) March 20, 2018
The National Transportation Safety Board, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Tempe police are working together to see who is at fault in this accident. “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” Moir stated. However, after the Chronicle’s story, the Tempe Police Department issued a statement that said, “Tempe Police Department does not determine fault in vehicular collisions.”
If the fault ends up being on Uber, it could potentially have quite the effect on both the company and the self-driving business. Previously, Uber’s autonomous vehicles hav been in accidents, but the company was never held liable. This time, though, it’s the first accident that’s resulted in a fatality, so Uber is surely conducting its own internal tests.