Elaine Herzberg of Tempe, Arizona died on Sunday, March 18, following a fatal accident in which she was struck by a self-driving Uber, making her the first known victim of an autonomous car accident. Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle and some grocery bags across a four-lane highway when she was struck by the self-driving Volvo XC-90 SUV. The vehicle, which was piloted by a trained Uber employee, Rafaela Vasquez, was going 38 mph in a 35 mph zone.
Herzberg, who is believed to have been homeless, had already made it across three lanes of traffic before appearing suddenly in front of Vasquez and the vehicle, neither of which were able to slow down in time.
While the autonomous vehicles themselves are designed to stop upon the appearance of an object in their path, the presence of an Uber ‘pilot’, such as Vasquez, is meant to take control when the vehicle’s automation fails. A recently released video by Tempe police appears to show neither of those precautions taking place leading up to the accident. In the video, Vasquez is seen looking down just moments before the fatal collision, before looking out to the road and gasping.
According to the Daily Mail, Uber employs around 400 such safety drivers, requiring them to complete a three-week training course following a company background check. Uber has since suspended all road-testing for autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto areas.
While not much is known about Herzberg, it is believed that neither Vasquez nor Uber will be held responsible for her death. Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir telling the San Francisco Chronicle, “it’s very clear 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.”
While Uber remains legally cleared for the moment, those who’ve feared the worst from self-driving cars will likely take a moment to say ‘I told you so.’ In fact, they already have.
What did you think of this story? Are self-driving cars a mistake, or the way of the future? Should greater regulations be put in place for self-driving vehicles, and should Uber be held responsible for incidents such as this one? Let us know in the comments!