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Self-driving car kills pedestrian in Arizona

The future trajectory of autonomous vehicles remains murky after an Uber self-driving vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian recently in Tempe, Arizona. The 49-year-old woman, who was attempting to cross the road without using a crosswalk, died at a local hospital from her injuries.

The fatal accident occurred on March 18 at approximately 10 p.m. The car that struck the pedestrian was operating autonomously with a human safety driver supervising, according to the Tempe Police Department.

The spokesperson for the police department issued a statement that read, in part: "Uber is assisting and this is still an active investigation."

The ride-share company announced the day after the fatality that it was suspending all testing for the autonomous vehicles in their four targeted regions — San Francisco, Toronto, Pittsburgh and the greater Phoenix area. Uber's spokesperson issued a statement about the tragedy, saying, "Our hearts go out to the victim's family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident."

In addition to Uber, multiple companies like General Motors Co., Baidu Inc. and Alphabet Inc. have invested billions of dollars in developing autonomous-vehicle technologies with the goal of not only transforming the auto industry, but the transportation industry itself. The way that cities work may also be altered if and when these vehicles become the norm.

Possible consequences of the Tempe fatality could include delays in the testing process and the vehicles' commercial usage, along with derailing the optimism surrounding the project.

Special crash investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are on-site to determine the circumstances of the wreck. The agency does not routinely open probes into highway accidents. However, they have been keeping close tabs on any incidents that involve either semi-autonomous or autonomous vehicles.

After a 2016 Florida accident that resulted in a death, the NTSB determined that Tesla Inc.'s Autopilot system was partially at fault in the collision.

Regardless of who may have been liable for this accident in Arizona, self-driving cars will certainly have an impact on future liability claims related to any deaths or injuries involving these high-tech vehicles.

Source: Bloomberg Technical, "Uber Halts Autonomous Car Tests After Fatal Crash in Arizona," Mark Bergen and Eric Newcomer, March 19, 2018

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