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Reports: self-driving Uber car kills Arizona pedestrian

Published March 19, 2018
UPDATED: San Francisco bike group calls death “entirely avoidable.”

TEMPE, Ariz. (BRAIN) — A self-driving Uber car hit and killed a pedestrian Sunday night here, according to New York Times reporter Daisuke Wakabayashi's twitter feed.

According to a Tempe Police report, the Uber car was operating in autonomous mode though there was a human safety driver in the vehicle. Wakabayashi said this could be the first pedestrian killed by an autonomous vehicle. Wakabayashi’s first tweet identified the woman struck as a cyclist, as did the first local Tempe news reports. But police reports corrected to a female pedestrian.

Responding to the accident, Uber has paused its autonomous driving tests on public roads in Arizona as well as in the cities of San Francisco, Toronto, and Pittsburgh.

The US National Transportation Safety Board has opened an investigation into the crash and is sending a team to Tempe according to the Board's Twitter feed.

California plans to issue permits starting on April 2 approving fully driverless testing of autonomous vehicles on state roads. Whether this accident will pause this timeline is not clear at this point.

On Monday, Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, issued a statement calling the Arizona collision "entirely preventable."

The Coalition in 2016 pointed out that Uber's technology at the time allowed right turns through bike lanes.

"The State of California took action, threatening to revoke the registration of the unready vehicles," Wiedenmeier said.

"Now, as the California DMV is on the cusp of issuing driverless testing permits to companies like Uber, Waymo and Cruise, we must ensure that the safety of people biking and walking is paramount. We strongly support San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell in his calls for voluntary safety checks before any autonomous vehicles operate under this permit on our streets.

"We call on Uber, Waymo, Lyft, Cruise and all companies that seek to test and deploy autonomous vehicles to take responsibility for public safety," he said. 

Linda Bailey, the executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, also issued a statement.

"NACTO is encouraged that the National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to provide an in-depth, independent assessment of the tragic crash," Bailey said. "However, what is already clear is that the current model for real-life testing of autonomous vehicles does not ensure everyone's safety. While autonomous vehicles need to be tested in real-life situations, testing should be performed transparently, coordinated with local transportation officials, and have robust oversight by trusted authorities.

"In order to be compatible with life on city streets, AV technology must be able to safely interact with people on bikes, on foot, or exiting a parked car on the street, in or out of the crosswalk, at any time of day or night. Cities need vehicles to meet a clear minimum standard for safe operations so the full benefits of this new technology are realized on our complex streets. Responsible companies should support a safety standard and call for others to meet one as well."

Editor's note: Matt Wiebe wrote about autonomous vehicles and the bike industry in the March 15 issue of Bicycle Retailer. 


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