It’s a moment we all feared was coming, but were hoping we wouldn’t have to see. Last night, a self-driving car killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. As far as we can tell, it’s the first time a driverless car has killed a pedestrian. The vehicle was operated by Uber.
According to the New York Times, the car was in autonomous mode, but had a human safety driver at the wheel. The incident occured last night, although it’s not clear if it was Monday or Sunday. Uber has suspended its self-driving vehicle program for the time being.
Self-driving vehicles promise to be better than human drivers at avoiding injury for both passengers and pedestrians. The accident is certain to trigger additional scrutiny into the technology, and give pause to regulators who decide when more autonomous cars can hit the roads.
Under some measurements, self-driving cars appear to be safer than humans driving an equivalent number of miles, although some suggest the comparisons are unbalanced, or that at the very least, it’s too early to tell. While we’ve seen drivers killed in Teslas used in autopilot mode, those vehicles aren’t fully autonomous and are supposed to rely on drivers being alert at the wheel. On the other hand, we don’t have any information on how this crash occurred – or if it’s something a human driver could have possibly avoided.
Still it’s clear there’s more work to be done. It’s also another low mark on a difficult year for Uber, which has been rapidly making changes to improve its public image since ousting CEO Travis Kalanick. The company provided the following statement:
“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”
That doesn’t tell us much, but the company likely still has to dig through the data to find out what went wrong.
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