It was little more than a year ago that Arizona governor Doug Ducey welcomed the arrival of Uber’s self-driving vehicles on the state’s public roads with unabashed enthusiasm. On Monday, in the wake of a fatal crash, Ducey has suspended Uber’s autonomous fleet from testing and operating within the state’s borders, citing the company’s “unquestionable failure” in the collision that killed Elaine Herzberg in Tempe earlier this month.
The National Transportation Safety Board, as well as other governmental agencies and law-enforcement officials, is still investigating the cause of the crash, which was the first fatality involving fully autonomous technology. But Ducey said he has seen enough to prohibit further Uber self-driving operations. “Arizona will not tolerate any less than an unequivocal commitment to public safety,” he wrote in a letter announcing the ban to Uber chief executive officer Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday. Uber had already grounded its fleet of self-driving cars and trucks in the state and elsewhere following the crash, in which Tempe Police Department officials say the company’s car did not attempt to brake for Herzberg. She was walking a bicycle across a multiple-lane arterial road at roughly 10 p.m. on March 18 when she was struck by one of Uber’s retrofitted Volvo XC90s, which had a safety driver on board at the time. But the governor’s suspension signals a new era for the testing of self-driving vehicles in Arizona, and perhaps an overall change in tenor in the eagerness for testing elsewhere as well. Ducey, who had cleared the way for autonomous operations in Arizona via executive order, had been among the most ardent proponents of allowing companies to test within a permissive environment not stifled by regulations.
Back in December 2016, when California regulators revoked the vehicle registrations for Uber’s fleet of self-driving vehicles operating in the state without the necessary permits, Ducey, a Republican, aggressively courted Uber’s testing business. At the time, he said: “This is about economic development, but it’s also about changing the way we live and work. Arizona is proud to be open for business.” In a tweet on December 21, 2016, at the height of Uber’s standoff with California’s regulators, Ducey fanned the controversy, writing, “This is what OVER-regulation looks like! #ditchcalifornia.”
— Doug Ducey (@dougducey) December 22, 2016
His letter Monday struck a more subdued tone, noting the graphic nature of the video footage that Tempe police have released from the moments preceding the crash. “I found the video to be disturbing and alarming, and it raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona,” Ducey wrote. “As governor, my top priority is public safety. 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.”
Other companies such as Waymo and Cruise Automation, which also test autonomous technology in the state, are unaffected by the suspension. It was unclear Monday when Uber’s ability to test might be reinstated or if there are conditions the company now must meet to end the suspension. Uber released a statement following the governor’s ban, noting that it has suspended its self-driving operations in Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto following the accident. “We continue to help investigators in any way we can, and we’ll keep a dialogue open with the governor’s office to address any concerns they have,” an Uber spokesperson said.