Phoenix, Arizona, USA: A 49 year-old woman, Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber Car in Tempe (Phoenix Metro) Arizona, Tempe Police Department said on Monday. Elaine Herzberg, was crossing the road outside a pedestrian crossing when the Uber vehicle operating in autonomous mode under the supervision of a human safety driver, struck her. She was transferred to a local hospital where she died from her injuries. The car, according to officials, was heading north on Mill Avenue when Herzberg who was walking a bicycle across the roadway was struck by the car.
“The vehicle was travelling northbound … when a female walking outside the pedestrian crossing crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle,” Tempe police said in a statement. “Uber is assisting and this is still an active investigation,” Police added.
The operator was identified as 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez. Officials said Vazquez was cooperative, and showed no sign of impairment.
The car, according to Tempe Police officials, was a 2017 self-driving Volvo XC90 that was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision. Vasquez, according to officials, was behind the wheel at the time of the incident.
Uber said on Monday that it was pausing tests of all its autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto and the greater Phoenix area.
“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”
The accident in the city of Tempe marked the first fatality from a self-driving vehicle, which are still being tested around the globe, and could derail efforts to fast track the introduction of the new technology in the United States.
As many self-driving cars have begun to travel on public roads in pilot programes around the world, the chance of a pedestrian death has become more likely.
The National Transportation Safety Board is opening an investigation into the death and is sending a small team of investigators to Tempe. The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSB) dispatched a special crash investigation team.
The NTSB opens relatively few highway accident investigations each year, but has been closely following incidents involving autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles.
Last year, it partially faulted Tesla’s Autopilot system for a fatal crash in Florida in 2016.
The NTSB’s cautionary tone on the emergence of self-driving technology contrasted with the Department of Transportation, which revised its policy on self-driving vehicles Tuesday in an attempt to remove obstacles to the testing of such vehicles.
The Phoenix area is a fertile ground for experiments in the technology. Uber has been testing there with safety drivers behind the wheel.
Late last year, Alphabet’s Waymo, which has tested in the Phoenix area for years, began removing the safety drivers to transport a small number of residents.
General Motors is also testing in the Phoenix area.
“Public safety is our top priority, and we are in communication with law enforcement, which is investigating the accident and gathering facts, as well as Uber,” a spokesman for Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said.
Drivers relying on Tesla’s Autopilot technology have been involved in fatal car crashes. Uber has had minor incidents in the past.
A self-driving Uber car ran a red light in San Francisco while the company operated in the city without regulatory approval. The California Department of Motor Vehicles eventually forced Uber to pull the cars from the road.
US states set their own rules for roads, and a handful have passed laws allowing self-driving vehicles.
California and Arizona have been particularly encouraging, hoping that companies developing autonomous technology in those states will create local jobs and facilities devoted to a promising new industry.
Autonomous-vehicle technology has been touted as having potential to save fuel, ease congestion, and save thousands of lives.