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Uber’s self-driving car testing suspended in Arizona after fatal crash

UBER HAS BEEN SUSPENDED from testing its autonomous vehicles in Arizona after one of its self-driving cars hit and killed a woman as she crossed the road.

After video footage of the car’s crash was released by Tempe Police last week, Arizona governor Doug Ducey removed Uber’s driverless car testing privileges in the US state due to concerns about the company’s ability to safely test the self-driving systems, Associated Press reported.

“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,” Ducey wrote to Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi. “The incident that took place on 18 March is an unquestionable failure to comply with this expectation.”

Driverless cars are often thought to be a lot safer than human-driven vehicles, as they apply much faster decision making and aren’t prone to erratic or illogical manoeuvres. In the incidents where they have been in crashes, the blame has often been laid on the doorstep of human motorists.

But in Uber’s case the car failed to spot a woman crossing the road at night and fatally wounded her. While 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg crossed at a dimly lit section of the road rather than a managed crosswalk, Uber’s autonomous car had a few seconds to apply the brakes but didn’t appear to do so in the released video footage.

Equally, the safety driver there to grab back control if the car looks like its going to cause an accident or be involved in one, didn’t react in time either, with videos of the cabin showing him seemingly with his eyes off the road ahead when the accident occurred.

While the chief of Tempe police noted that such a crash  “would have been difficult” to avoid even for human drivers, and that Uber was not to blame, the company’s autonomous testing was still under scrutiny, with Uber itself also investigating the situation.

However, it won’t be allowed to test its cars in Arizona for the time being, which could stymie the development of Uber branded self-driving taxis, and potentially put roadblocks in the route ahead for autonomous vehicle development.

The whole situation raised more questions as to who should be responsible for driverless car safety.

But given how few fatalities driverless cars have been involved in despite large amounts of testing, it also presents an argument that stopping self-driving car testing also prevents them from getting safer as they develop, meanwhile human drivers responsible for the majority of motoring deaths are still out there zipping around on public roads. µ

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