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Operator of Self-Driving Car Held Responsible in Pedestrian Death

Self-driving cars are in the news a lot lately. While autonomous cars have been around, in one form or another, since the 1980s, they've recently begun moving closer to the mainstream consumer market with contributions from Tesla, Uber, Waymo, Cruise, and more.

Although they've already come a long way since their initial conceptualization and unveiling, they aren't quite ready to hit the roadways en masse. In fact, there are a number of holdups and setbacks – including the recent news of a self-driving car striking and killing a pedestrian.

Investigating the Crime

While there aren't many driverless cars on the roads today, there are a limited number in operation. However, it's important to note that these cars still legally require a licensed driver – just in case something goes wrong. Unfortunately, there's little that can be done when a driverless car malfunctions and the driver is distracted; which is exactly what happened during an incident in 2018.

Uber, one of the primary proponents of autonomous vehicles, had been testing a small fleet of driverless cars in Tempe, Arizona, when one tragically failed to recognize a woman who was using the designated crosswalk to cross a busy intersection.

As noted in the investigation, the driver who was ultimately responsible for the autonomous vehicle was streaming a video on her cell phone at the time of the incident. She reportedly looked up from her phone approximately six seconds before the accident. Unfortunately, she looked back down right before the crash occurred.

The crash was the first reported pedestrian death caused by a vehicle that was operating fully autonomously. As a result, Uber immediately pulled its entire fleet of driverless vehicles from public roadways and quietly ended their Arizona-based testing.
Despite their efforts, the NTSB ultimately ruled that Uber could have done more to prevent the accident. In their lengthy report, which included over 400 pages of documents, they concluded that "Uber didn't have a formal safety plan in place" when the incident occurred. The report also places blame on Uber's lack of oversight and missing safety procedures.

Nat Beuse, head of safety with Uber's autonomous vehicle program, spoke about the accident while shedding some light on the future by saying: ''"We deeply regret the March 2018 crash that resulted in the loss of Elaine Herzberg's life, and we remain committed to improving the safety of our self-driving program. Over the last 20 months, we have provided the NTSB with complete access to information about our technology and the developments we have made since the crash."''

Incidents like this have helped to stall the progress of self-driving cars. According to many experts, we should have seen autonomous vehicles enter the mainstream consumer market by now. However, thanks in large part to reported accidents, their usage remains limited to a few pilot programs. While the technology is still expected to improve, and self-driving cars are still expected to hit consumer availability at some point in the near future, it's anybody's guess as to when that will come to fruition.


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