Yesterday, Uber called a halt to all self-driving tests after a highly publicized crash in Tempe, AZ, on Sunday evening. Now, it looks as though Uber might not be at fault for the accident. Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle that, based on footage from the vehicle's on-board cameras, "it's very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how [the pedestrian] came from the shadows right into the roadway."
The vehicle did have a human operator in the car, but it was in autonomous mode. The driver, Rafaela Vasquez, said that "it was like a flash," when the person abruptly stepped out from a center median in front of the car. "His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision," Moir stated to the San Francisco Chronicle. The vehicle was traveling 38 mph in a 35 zone. The pedestrian did not appear to be using a crosswalk, though apparently the street design did make it appear as if that section was inviting people to cross.
A super-weird aspect of this crash site is that it occurred at a place where a beautiful brick-paved diagonal walking path was provided across the median, along with a sign instructing people not to use it. This is beyond pedestrian-hostile design; it's damn-near entrapment. pic.twitter.com/ZaHw9bIIrR— 🚗🚌🚚🚲 (@EricPaulDennis) March 20, 2018
The Tempe police is actively working with the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to determine who is at fault for the accident. "I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident," Moir stated. However, after the Chronicle's story, the Tempe Police Department issued a statement that said, "Tempe Police Department does not determine fault in vehicular collisions."
If Uber is found liable for the collision, it could have quite an effect on both the company and the larger business of self-driving cars. Uber's autonomous vehicles have had previous self-driving accidents, and the company was never held liable. However, this is the first incident involving a fatality, so you can bet all the companies currently conducting self-driving tests will be watching this case very closely.