Uber’s Driverless Car Hits, Kills Arizona Pedestrian

Late last Sunday evening in Tempe, Arizona, a driverless car operated by Uber struck and killed a pedestrian. Uber Technologies Inc. has temporarily pulled all driverless cars from Arizona as a result of the accident. This is the first known fatality caused by an autonomous vehicle, an exciting yet still largely untested technology.

What Happened?

The New York Times reports that the car was going around 40 mph when it struck the pedestrian. The driverless car had a human operator at the wheel to take over in case of emergency. The driver was not impaired, and the weather was dry and clear. Because this is the first death caused by an autonomous vehicle, it may greatly impact the future of driverless vehicles. It was reported that the pedestrian was walking her bicycle outside of a crosswalk. According to BBC, Tempe police reviewed the video of the crash and have not yet determined fault.

How Do Driverless Cars Work?

A driverless car’s operating components include a lidar unit, cameras, a radar sensor, and a computer. The lidar unit is primarily responsible for capturing a 360-degree image of the car’s surroundings; the radar sensor measures the distance(s) between the car and nearby objects; the cameras detect traffic lights and signals as well as moving objects like pedestrians. These technologies send the captured information to the computer, which then analyzes the information, compares it with stored information (like a map of the area), and signals the car to operate. With all of these features working in unison, an autonomous vehicle is designed to safely detect and avoid moving objects like pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles

Who (or What) Could Be Liable?

This accident could play an important role in determining the liability and safety of driverless cars. Volvo manufactures the autonomous vehicles for Uber Technologies Inc. If the technology in the car was defective, there may be a products liability case. Volvo, Uber, and the manufacturer of the driverless technology could all potentially be held liable. If the human operator failed to intervene and take control of the vehicle, the driver could also be held liable. Regardless, this accident certainly calls into question whether driverless technology in its current state is safe enough for everyday use.

According to the Star Tribune, Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies autonomous vehicles said, “the victim did not come out of nowhere. She’s moving on a dark road, but it’s an open road, so Lidar (laser) and radar should have detected and classified her” as a human. He believes the video of the pedestrian walking across the street “is strongly suggestive of multiple failures of Uber and its system, its automated system, and its safety driver.”

Sam Abuelsmaid, an analyst for Navigant Research, supports Smith’s beliefs. He follows autonomous vehicles and has found that the laser and radar systems can see in the dark better than humans. “It absolutely should have been able to pick her up. From what I see in the video it sure looks like the car is at fault, not the pedestrian.”

GoldenbergLaw Can Help

GoldenbergLaw has over 30 years of experience successfully litigating automobile accidents and defective products cases. We know that the physical, emotional, and financial damages can be a significant burden. Contact us for a free consultation.


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