The state of Arizona has suspended Uber’s self-driving car tests. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey wrote a strongly worded letter to the ride-hailing company informing them of the decision. The suspension comes a few weeks after an Uber self-driving SUV hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The Governor says that the fatal accident came as a result of Uber’s failure to comply with safety procedures.
In response to the letter, Uber pointed out that it has already suspended tests in Arizona and other states across North America. The company also expressed its desire to keep the dialogue open with the Governor’s office with the intention of ironing out any major issues in the future. In the letter, Governor Ducey says that the video evidence of the collision released by Tempe police raises a lot of questions regarding Uber’s ability to conduct safe tests in Arizona. According to him, improving public safety has always been the intention of Arizona’s approach to autonomous vehicles. He added that he expects tech companies conducting autonomous car tests to take the same approach.
Other companies involved in the self-driving car industry have also suspended tests after the Tempe accident. Nvidia, the company that provides some of the technology for Uber’s autonomous vehicles, said that it has halted all its public tests. Toyota also confirmed last week that it has pulled all its self-driving cars off the road. The two companies say that although ultimately self-driving cars would be much safer compared to human drivers, they saw it fit to suspend all tests in order to learn from the Uber incident.
The collision video released by the Tempe police shows an Uber car hitting pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. The car didn’t slow down or try to change its course. This is so far the biggest issue. Ideally, it was expected that the car would have noticed the pedestrian crossing the street. Uber said in a statement that it’s investigating the matter and it will fully cooperate with authorities.
However, Ducey’s action could affect how future tests for self-driving cars will be conducted. Arizona was among the first few states to accept self-driving car public tests. In fact, Governor Doug Ducey signed an executive order in 2015 inviting self-driving car companies to conduct tests in the state without any new legislation or regulation. Ducey even took the first ride when Uber started testing autonomous cars in Tempe. Arizona’s warm weather and wide highways were also important deciding factors for these tests.
Nonetheless, many analysts feel that things will change drastically after the Tempe accident. This is actually the first known incident where a self-driving car is involved in a fatal collision. Considering that such cars are being promoted as a safer alternative to human drivers, footage of the Uber SUV hitting a pedestrian despite the car’s safety features is a puzzle that needs to solved before any other autonomous vehicle test starts again in public roads.