Fatal accident involving self-driving car has some questioning technology

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Fatal accident involving self-driving car has some questioning technology

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

It is too early to assess blame for Sunday’s deadly pedestrian accident in Arizona involving a self-driving Uber vehicle, according to police.

But people who spoke with News Center 7 Consumer Reporter Rachel Murray said the accident is making them hesitant to trust the technology.

The Volvo was in self-driving mode, with a human backup driver, when it struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she crossed a street while walking a bike outside a crosswalk. It is the first death involving a fully autonomous test vehicle.

Uber Technologies Inc. immediately suspended further road testing.

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According to the Los Angeles Times, Tempe police said a video from the car shows the woman moving in front of it suddenly before it hit her, a factor investigators are likely to focus on as they assess the performance of the technology.

Sensors on self-driving cars — which may include laser-based technology, radar and video — are designed to sense pedestrians and other obstructions, even in the dark.

The National Transportation Safety Board is opening an investigation into the death and is sending investigators to Tempe. The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration dispatched a special investigation team as well.

The NTSB has been closely following incidents involving autonomous or partially autonomous vehicles. Last year, it partially faulted Tesla Inc.'s semiautonomous Autopilot system for a fatal crash in Florida in 2016.

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The crash is what the auto tech industry and advocates have been dreading and what many consumers have feared.

"I thought that was sketchy," Oakwood resident Caroline Winch said of the technology.

Bruce Fiedler, of Xenia, termed the technology as "really cool but [with] a lot of potential for disaster."

Raul Ordonez, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Yaskawa Motoman Robotics Lab at the University of Dayton, said the accident represents the day everyone has been dreading.

"If it was determined that it was a malfunction or inappropriate design from the part of the Uber engineers, then I think that would be a great problem," he said. "It would amplify calls for this to be regulated much more."

Ordonez also suggested that perhaps the technology should be stopped.

He said he's excited about self-driving technology but is prepared to wait.

"I don't think that day is here yet," he said, noting the accident illustrates why.

-- Information from The Associated Press is included in this report