Police chief says Uber 'likely not' at fault in pedestrian accident

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The company has been testing autonomous vehicles around North America, and one of its vehicles struck a woman walking her bicycle across a street in Tempe, Arizona.

Britain is pushing ahead with tests of self-driving cars on public roads despite mounting public concern over safety after a pedestrian was killed by one in the US.

Elaine Herzberg, who was 49, was walking alongside her bicycle outside a crosswalk on a road with four lanes in a suburb of Phoenix about 10 p.m. local time on Sunday or 12:00 EST Monday morning, when the Uber vehicle struck her while traveling at approximately 40 miles per hour, said police.

U.S. government safety investigators were sent to examine the crash site and Uber has suspended its test fleets of self-driving cars across the USA and Canada.

"It is unsafe to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available", Moir was quoted as saying by the San Francisco Chronicle. This incident appears to be one of those "corner cases" that Elon Musk refers to often as being the most hard for software engineers to deal with.

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Arizona officials saw opportunity when Uber and other companies began testing driverless cars a few years ago.

Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir relayed to the publication that the driver said it "was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them". Herzberg, who police say may have been homeless, was taken to a local hospital where she died.

Anthony Foxx, who served as US Secretary of Transportation under former President Barack Obama, called the accident a "wake up call to the entire [autonomous vehicle] industry and government to put a high priority on safety".

In California, self-driving cars must have a remote backup driver that essentially turns them into drones for the street. Certainly, the safety driver, who was behind the wheel at the time of the collision, was unable to react in time.

Despite the police chief's preliminary statement suggesting the accident was unavoidable and apparently the fault of the victim, the death has ignited a frenzy of sensational headlines. The woman is believed to be the first pedestrian ever to have been killed by a self driving vehicle. Decisions on any possible charges will be made by the Maricopa County Attorney's office. The incident may also hurt Uber's ability to attract partners and suppliers, many of which could be dissuaded from working with a company that might have such a negative public perception. The NTSB will investigate who was at fault for the crash: the operator, the software that was supposed to drive the auto, or the pedestrian.