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Self-driving Uber car fatally runs over pedestrian in Tempe

(AP Photo)

PHOENIX — A woman walking a Tempe street Sunday evening was struck and killed by a self-driving Uber car, police said. The company said it has halted further tests of those vehicles.

An Uber employee was sitting in the driver’s seat but the car was operating in autonomous mode near Mill and Curry roads.

Authorities said the car was heading north in the East Valley suburb when it hit the woman, who died at a hospital. The vehicle was traveling around 40 mph.

Management at the San Francisco-based rideshare tweeted condolences to the family of Elaine Herzberg, 49, and added it was co-operating with investigators.

Sgt. Ron Elcock said in an email Herzberg was “walking outside the crosswalk” when she was hit.

The employee in the driver’s seat was 44-year-old Rafael Vasquez. Impairment was not believed to be a factor.

Testing has been shut down in metro Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; San Francisco and Toronto, Bloomberg.com reported.

The National Transportation Safety Board planned to investigate the death and was sending a small team to Tempe, spokesman Eric Weiss told the news site.

It’s the third time a self-driving car accident in Tempe has happened in the past year. In September 2017, another road test near the main Arizona State University campus ended up in a wreck, that one with multiple vehicles. One person was injured.

A few months before that, in the spring, an Uber vehicle was hit by a car. Testing was halted for an investigation.

Uber began to send self-driving Volvos onto Valley streets in Feb. 2017.

Autonomous vehicles seen as way to reduce car crash deaths, but still have faults

Autonomous vehicles with laser, radar and camera sensors and sophisticated computers have been billed as the way to reduce the more than 40,000 traffic deaths a year in the U.S. alone. Ninety-four percent of crashes are caused by human error, the government said.

Autonomous vehicles don’t drive drunk, don’t get sleepy and aren’t easily distracted. But they do have faults.

“We should be concerned about automated driving,” Smith said. “We should be terrified about human driving.”

In 2016, the latest year available, more than 6,000 U.S. pedestrians were killed by vehicles.

The federal government has voluntary guidelines for companies that want to test autonomous vehicles, leaving much of the regulation up to states.

Many states, including Michigan and Arizona, have taken a largely hands-off approach, hoping to gain jobs from the new technology, while California and others have taken a harder line.

California is among states that require manufacturers to report any incidents during the testing phase. As of early March, the state’s motor vehicle agency had received 59 such reports.

Ducey used light regulations to entice Uber to the state after the company had a shaky rollout of test cars in San Francisco. Arizona has no reporting requirements.

Hundreds of vehicles with automated driving systems have been on Arizona’s roads.

The U.S. Transportation Department is considering further voluntary guidelines that it says would help foster innovation. Proposals also are pending in Congress, including one that would stop states from regulating autonomous vehicles, Smith said.

Peter Kurdock, director of regulatory affairs for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in Washington, said the group sent a letter Monday to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao saying it is concerned about a lack of action and oversight by the department as autonomous vehicles are developed. That letter was planned before the crash.

Kurdock said the deadly crash should serve as a “startling reminder” to members of Congress that they need to “think through all the issues to put together the best bill they can to hopefully prevent more of these tragedies from occurring.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

KTAR News 92.3