Tempe police department and Maricopa County are investigation a fatal collision between a pedestrian, who was walking her bike across the street, and a self-driving Uber vehicle that had occurred in Tempe on Sunday night, Mar. 18th in what appears to be the 1st case of a pedestrian death caused by an autonomous vehicle. Based on the initial Tempe police investigation, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said that the fatal collision of the autonomous Uber vehicle was likely unavoidable based on evidence and a review of video footage provided by Uber. Moir said, however, that any charging decision would be up to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.
The fatal crash occurred shortly after 10:00 p.m. Sunday night as the self-driving Uber vehicle was traveling northbound on Curry Road approaching the intersection with Mill Avenue. That’s when 49-year old Elaine Herzberg of Mesa, who was walking a bike across Mill Avenue outside any crosswalk was struck by the Uber vehicle.
The vehicle did have a backup driver typically referred to as a “Safety Driver” by Uber in the likely event that the vehicle needs to be taken out of autonomous mode, but generally the vehicles run in autonomous mode, rely on radar sensors that are meant to detect pedestrians, cyclists, cars and other obstacles. Officials identified the operator as 44-year old Rafaela Vasquez. Video footage recorded inside the vehicle shows Vasquez appearing to take her eyes off the road and look down at something inside the vehicle possible her cell phone. Vasquez alternates between looking down and looking forward at the road when at the last minute the vehicle strikes Herzberg. Tempe police say that Vasquez did not show signs of impairment and was cooperating with the investigation. A Tempe police spokesperson said that the area is an accident-prone area stating, “A large median at the scene of the crash has warning signs stating that people not cross mid-block and to walk down to the crosswalk at the north corner at Curry Road instead. But the median also has a brick pathway cutting through the desert landscaping that accommodates people who do cross at that site.”
Herzberg was transported to a nearby hospital where she succumbed to her injuries and was pronounced dead a short time after arriving. In a statement released via the company’s twitter account, Uber said, "Our hearts go out to the victim's family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident." Uber has temporarily suspended its self-driving operations in the cities of San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and Toronto. The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the collision. The agency said in a statement released to the public that a team of 4 investigators will go through Uber's equipment and video recorded on the Uber vehicle to help determine the cause of the accident.
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Photo Credit: http://abc7.com/news/woman-killed-by-self-driving-uber-car-identified-as-company-suspends-testing-/3234630/