Self-driving car strikes and kills pedestrian in first known autonomous vehicle fatality

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Mar 20, 2018, 5:48 PM EDT (Updated)

The movement to introduce autonomous vehicles onto public roads just encountered the sort of moment that proponents certainly would rather never have come up: the first reported fatality involving a self-driving car on U.S. roads.

Uber has suspended its limited autonomous car service in the wake of an Arizona fatality involving one of its self-driving cars and a female pedestrian, who was struck and killed on Sunday, March 18. 

According to the Phoenix-based Arizona Republic, the Uber-operated Volvo struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed Mill Avenue, a busy thoroughfare in Tempe’s entertainment district. The accident occurred late at night. NBC News reports that a human operator was behind the wheel at the time of the accident, but that the vehicle was in autonomous mode and was not under human control when the wreck occurred.

Uber, which has introduced self-driving service in Tempe, Scottsdale, and a handful of other U.S. cities, said in a tweet that the company is cooperating with the local police investigation. Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell also released a statement via Twitter calling Uber’s halting of autonomous service, as well as its cooperation with law enforcement, “a responsible step to take at this time.”

  Although it marks the first known death in connection with the use of fully self-driving cars, this week’s accident is not the first time an autonomous vehicle has been involved in a wreck in the Phoenix area. Another self-driving Uber Volvo was involved in a crash one month after the service was introduced in Tempe early in 2017, although that accident resulted in no serious injuries.

“Nearly every accident involving autonomous cars so far has been the fault of other drivers,” the Republic report noted. “Sunday's fatality was the first.”

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