A self-driving Uber car hit and killed a woman in Tempe, AZ. (REUTERS/Natalie Behring)

A self-driving Uber car hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. According to a police report filed on the incident, the vehicle was on self-driving mode when the accident happened although there was a driver behind the wheel.

This is the first time that a pedestrian has been hit by a self-driving car. There was another incident though where a driver was killed while using Tesla’s semi-autonomous mode. However, at the time it emerged that the driver had ignored several safety warnings. Nonetheless, these incidents could ignite debate about the safety of autonomous cars.

The woman was crossing at Mill Avenue. Source: NY Times 

In response to the accident in Tempe, Uber has stopped all its self-driving tests. The company had already rolled out a comprehensive test program in Arizona, San Francisco, and Toronto. It’s not clear when the tests will resume but the company will presumably need time to investigate the accident and see what went wrong.

So far, the exact circumstances of the crash are not known. A brief statement by Uber only confirmed that one person had been killed in the incident and that the ride-hailing company is cooperating with the authorities in the ongoing investigation. Tempe police handling the investigation has also not divulged a lot of details on the matter.

However, there are new reports that show that Uber is likely not at fault for the accident. Local police chief told the San Francisco Chronicle that preliminary investigations showed that it was very unlikely that Uber or the driver behind the wheel were at fault. At the time of the accident, the police report said that the autonomous car was travelling at around 38 miles per hour and that the woman, identified as Elaine Herzberg, was hit while crossing the road with her bicycle.

Preliminary findings show that Uber is likely not at fault. Source: USA Today 

According to the police chief, a review of the footage captured by the car’s camera on the front and another facing the driver showed that the man behind the wheel had little time to react. The driver told police that the incident was like a flash. He said that the woman just walked out of nowhere in front of the car. The Tempe police also added that under such circumstances, it would have been impossible for the driver to prevent the accident even if he was not travelling with an autonomous vehicle.

The preliminary findings have been disputed by road safety activists across the country. They argued that it was very likely that the Tempe police was misinformed on the matter. But even then, until a full analysis of the accident is done there is not much information that can conclusively help us understand how the accident happened or what caused it. Uber is not taking any chances with this matter and until it figures out the circumstances that led to the accident, self-driving cars from the company will remain off the streets until further notice.