Legislation & Lobbying, Social

Self-driving Uber kills pedestrian in first fatal collision.

A self-driving Uber has killed a pedestrian in Arizona this morning leading to the first fatal collision between an autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian since its launch.

Police forces in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, disclosed that the car was in autonomous mode but also had a vehicle operator inside the car at the time of the incident, yet no passengers. The woman involved was hit by the vehicle whilst walking outside of a crosswalk in the early hours on Monday and later died in hospital, reports The Guardian. She has since been named as 49 year old Elaine Herzberg.

Uber was in the process of testing their autonomous cars throughout a number of states but following news of the incident the company has since halted all of their self-driving cars in Arizona, San Francisco, Toronto and Pittsburgh. The company has announced that it is ‘fully cooperating’ with the ongoing investigation into the collision.

The company, Uber, has become somewhat of a household name across the world with its number of monthly active users reaching over 40 million by the end of last year alone. However amidst a controversial ban of the app in London, restrictions in countries such as Colombia and competing with a number of other taxi companies the company decided to expand its convoy to involve self-driving cars in a bid to make the roads more efficient.  

It has been reported that the self-driving cars have been in use in Arizona since February 2017 after the vehicles were banned in California over safety concerns, where they saw one of the cars run a red light. Since the introduction, there has already been one road collision where a car didn’t respond to the autonomous Uber’s turn.  The recent fatal incident however has sparked some anger amongst the community as some speculate that Uber should put a full end to the self-driving programme.

This incident in Arizona comes as a blow to the technology industry where the focus on Artificial Intelligence (A.I) has been steadily increasing throughout the years. Although a new phenomenon in the Uber world is still in an early phase, it was however only a matter of time before the self-driving cars were to face an incident of this type. Functioning throughout the area for over a year, the cars still maintain a safer track-record than human drivers however – a rising figure which saw 962 motor vehicle crash deaths in Arizona alone in 2016. Though the counter argument would imply that not enough time and frequency of automated cars allow for any such comparisons.

Going forward from the incident a further moral question is raised surrounding who is to blame for the pedestrian’s death. Reports have stated that Herzberg was not walking in the designated pedestrian crossing, however, at the same time the safety driver, responsible for ensuring the prevention of such collisions, is bound to come under fire. The technology that enables the cars to function autonomously also comes into question regarding the incident and could serve as damning implications for the future of self-driving cars and artificial intelligence itself.

As more details come to light in the following investigation, it is safe to say that this latest incident will still serve as a major blow to the public’s perception of autonomous technology. Although early details point to an initial combination of human errors, the focus will undoubtedly turn to why this was even possible when involving a forward-thinking technology that was built to improve the roads and avert such tragedy.

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