In the aftermath of a fatal crash earlier this week between an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian, industry leaders and city officials across the country are putting their own autonomous-vehicle testing programs on hold so they can ponder the effect on the vehicles’ onboard safety drivers and consider the road ahead for this fledgling technology.
On Sunday night in Tempe, Arizona, an Uber self-driving vehicle operating in autonomous mode struck Elaine Herzberg, 49, who had stepped into the roadway. She was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. Uber has since suspended its self-driving-vehicle testing across its operations in Tempe, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Toronto.
Although it had no role in the deadly incident (the Uber test vehicle was a Volvo XC90), Toyota said Tuesday it will “temporarily pause” testing of its self-driving systems on public roads in Michigan and California. The stoppage involves Toyota test vehicles operating with the company’s Chauffeur autonomous-mode capability, which handles responsibility for all driving tasks.
“We feel the incident in Tempe may have an emotional effect on our test drivers,” Toyota said in a statement. “This timeout is meant to give them time to come to a sense of balance about the inherent risks of their jobs. We are monitoring the situation and plan to resume testing at an appropriate time.”
Manufacturers were not the only ones suspending autonomous-vehicle testing. As in Arizona, Massachusetts permits autonomous-vehicle testing via an executive order issued by the state’s governor. But in Boston, city officials wanted time Tuesday to contemplate the ramifications of ongoing testing within the city’s borders. The commissioner of the city’s transportation department, Gina Fiandaca, asked two companies testing there to pause operations. They agreed.
“As a precautionary measure, we have temporarily asked NuTonomy and Optimus Ride to pause their autonomous-vehicle testing programs on public streets in Boston,” Fiandaca wrote. “The Boston transportation department will be working with both companies to review their safety procedures to ensure each program can move forward.”
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board examine the Volvo XC90 that struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday night.
In Tempe, local law-enforcement officials have been joined by teams from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in investigating the crash. Those teams have reviewed video footage of the crash captured by cameras mounted in the vehicle and have begun collecting electronic data stored on the vehicle, according to the Tempe Police Department. As of late Tuesday, a spokesperson for the department said that no fault has been determined in the crash.
In the meantime, Tempe’s mayor, Mark Mitchell, has issued a statement in support of Uber’s decision to pause its testing.
“The city of Tempe has been supportive of autonomous-vehicle testing because of the innovation and promise the technology may offer in many areas, including transportation options for disabled residents and seniors,” he said. “Testing must occur safely. All indications we have had in the past show that traffic laws are being obeyed by the companies testing here. Our city leadership and Tempe police will pursue any and all answers to what happened in order to ensure safety moving forward.”
It is unclear when Uber may begin testing there again.