On Sunday night, March 18th a self-driving Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle operated by Uber hit and killed a pedestrian walking her bicycle across a road in the Phoenix, Arizona suburb of Tempe.
Few details have been given though police have released a video of the incident. It shows the woman being hit by the Volvo and the reaction of the driver.
Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pO9iRUx5wmM#action=share
The woman is 49-year old Elaine Herzberg. Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said she was homeless. Herzberg — the police report notes — was not in a crosswalk and she appeared to be jaywalking.
The fact that the vehicle missed seeing Herzberg is disturbing to many experts who say its sensors should have picked up the woman. To be fair to the Uber vehicle, Moir said it “would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”
Uber is suspending all tests of its self-driving vehicles. So is Toyota and other self-driving vehicle producers. As for the incident, Uber issued a statement saying, “The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones. Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”
We — the consumers of the U.S. — are split on whether to use a self-driving vehicle or not. J.D Power and Miller Canfield did a survey of 1,500 drivers and found:
• 47% definitely, or probably will get in a self-driving vehicle
• 46% definitely will not, or probably will not get in one
Kristin Kolodge of J.D. Power said, “We’ve been studying this sentiment towards automated driving for a number of years and the skepticism remains high, regarding automation in general. We see consumers are really excited about lower level technologies, like individual automated technology that helps them drive, from a blind spot warning or automatic emergency braking, but when that vehicle takes over with full control is where we see that level of skepticism increase.”
The worry is over incidents like the one that killed the woman in Tempe.
“They’re drawing analogies to their smartphone or computer, saying OK, these technologies break down, what’s to lead me to believe that my vehicle would not and what’s going to happen in that type of situation. We know manufacturers have been working very hard on resolving that type of situation from fail-safe type of strategies and building in redundancy in their systems, but it’s not clear to the consumers what that situation would look like,” she said.
Reports say Herzberg’s daughter has retained an attorney and there is no doubt lawsuits will be filed. The question now is who to sue. Does the family sue Uber? Volvo? The driver? Or all three?
Some experts say before we get to that point other questions will need to be answered. Some think Herzberg could be negligent since on the video it looks like she didn’t appear to be that aware of the vehicle.
Governor Doug Ducey — who welcomed Uber and others testing self-driving vehicles to the state in 2016 — has suspended all tests on state roadways and has grounded its 150 self-driving car fleet.
In a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi the governor said, “Improving public safety has always been the emphasis of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicle testing, and my expectation is that public safety is also the top priority for all who operate this technology in the state of Arizona. The incident that took place on March 18 is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”
Source links: Insurance Journal — link 1, link 2, Business Insurance, Insurance Business America, Forbes