Self-driving Uber kills pedestrian
Are self-driving cars a viable, safer option for transportation in the United States? This question, and many others, have been raised after one of Uber’s driverless cars struck and eventually killed a woman in Temple, Arizona. Elain Herzberg, 49 years-old, was walking her bicycle across the street on the evening of March 18, 2018. She was hit initially but passed away later on in the hospital. There was a human safety driver in the car at the time.
Following the accident, Uber released a statement on Twitter: “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.” The company suspended self-driving testing following the accident but declined to comment on possible causes of the crash. A spokes- person added that seeing the video footage was “disturbing and heartbreaking… Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”
A New York Times article includes video footage from the car, which displays activity both the exterior and interior activity in the vehicle. The exterior displays the car hum- ming down the road, going about 40 miles-per-hour in a 45-mph zone, reports note. The road was darker than usual, as it was nighttime, when Herzberg comes into view, where she was hit only seconds later.
The interior camera of the car shows a clearly distracted safety driver failing to pay attention to the road. The driver’s eyes are averted downward for most of the footage, the clip ending with a shocked expression as the car hit Herzberg. The New York Times reports that “both of the safety driver’s hands were not hovering above the steering wheel, which is what most backup drivers are instructed to do because it allows them to take control of the car quickly in the case of an emergency.”
While the safety driver should have been paying atten- tion, Uber is ultimately responsible. As a result of the accident, Uber’s Lidar technology has been called into question. Lidar is the technology that the autonomous cars use to detect their surroundings and, most importantly, potential dangers and accidents. A guardian article quotes Arizona State University professor David King. “This is exactly the type of situation that Lidar and radar are supposed to pick up. “This is a catastrophic failure that happened with Uber’s technology.”
King is not the only one voicing his concerns. John Simpson, Consumer Watch dog’s privacy and technology project director called attention to the The Guardian that the incidents were a “complete failure” of Uber’s safety procedures and self-driving technology. “Uber appears to be a company that has been rushing and taking shortcuts to get these things on the road,” Simpson said further. “It’s inexcusable.”
Uber has reached a settlement with Herzberg’s family. Details of this settlement are not available.
Maia Campbell, a senior, studies political science. She is the Campus Life Editor of Le Provocateur.