A newly released video of the fatal accident involving a pedestrian and an Uber Technologies Inc. self-driving car appears to show the vehicle heading straight into a woman walking her bike across the road without slowing down or swerving to avoid her.
The video, collected by Tempe, Ariz., police from cameras inside and outside the Uber vehicle, appears to also show the human safety operator at the wheel was looking down for approximately five seconds until the moment of impact. This person’s role is to take over controls to help prevent accidents or erratic driving from the robot vehicle.
The fatality prompted Uber to temporarily pull its self-driving vehicles from four North American cities while investigators determine the circumstances.
No charges have been filed and Tempe police on Wednesday said they are actively investigating Sunday night’s accident and will submit their findings to the Maricopa County Attorney’s office. Uber said this week it is cooperating with local and federal investigators following the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.
“The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” an Uber spokeswoman said in a statement. “Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”
While Tempe police haven’t determined whether Uber was at fault, they did initially say the accident was likely unavoidable.
There is no indication that the Uber car—equipped with laser sensors, radar and camera sensors to detect its surroundings—identified the pedestrian ahead of the collision. If that is the case, this accident could damage the public’s perception of robot vehicles, jolt regulators to take action and threaten the progress of dozens of auto makers and tech giants investing billions of dollars in autonomous vehicle technology.
The vehicle was traveling at about 40 miles per hour when it struck Ms. Herzberg as she crossed the road with her bicycle carrying bags, according to Tempe police and a review of the video.
While it could take days for investigators to draw conclusions, regulators, lawmakers and customers latched onto the incident, calling into question the safety of the nascent technology behind driverless cars. Ms. Herzberg’s death is believed to be the first caused by an autonomous vehicle.
Self-driving technology is still in its infancy and fully autonomous vehicles aren’t expected to be commonplace for many years. Still, technology companies insist they will ultimately be safer and less costly to operate than vehicles driven by humans.
Write to Greg Bensinger at firstname.lastname@example.org
Appeared in the March 22, 2018, print edition as ‘Uber Car Appeared Headed For Victim.’