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Fatal Uber Crash Raises Red Flags About Self-Driving Safety

After a woman in Tempe was killed by a self-driving Uber, local law enforcement was quick to absolve the company of blame. Transportation experts aren’t so sure.
A vehicle goes by the scene of Sunday's fatality where a pedestrian was stuck by an Uber vehicle in autonomous mode, in Tempe, Arizona.
A vehicle goes by the scene of Sunday's fatality where a pedestrian was stuck by an Uber vehicle in autonomous mode, in Tempe, Arizona. Chris Carlson/AP

Every day, as he goes to and from work, Arizona State University urban planning professor David King rides his bike* past the intersection where Elaine Herzberg was killed on Sunday night. The seven-lane road (counting turn lanes) in Tempe, Arizona is wide open, with no bushes or parked cars for a person to jump out from behind. In the immediate vicinity are a large park, an office building, and a nightclub that’s closed on Sundays—few potential distractions for a driver negotiating the area.

Herzberg, a 49-year-old woman who was homeless, was pushing a bicycle laden with her belongings along this road when she was struck by a self-driving Uber vehicle around 10 p.m. Sunday. She later died at a hospital, gaining the grisly distinction of being the first known pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car.