Uber May Not Be at Fault in Fatal Self-Driving Car Accident, Tempe Police Chief Says

But the investigation hasn’t reached any definitive conclusions.

byStephen Edelstein|


The investigation into a fatal crash involving an Uber self-driving car is still ongoing, but the police chief of Tempe, Arizona, told the San Francisco Chronicle that a preliminary look at video from the car indicates Uber may not be at fault.

Elaine Herzberg was pushing a bicycle across a Tempe street Sunday night when she was struck by one of Uber's self-driving cars. She was taken to a local hospital and died from her injuries. At a Monday press conference, police said the car was traveling 38 mph in a 35 mph zone in autonomous mode, and made no discernible attempt to slow down. An Uber safety driver was onboard.

"The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them," Tempe Police chief Sylvia Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle. "His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision."

The autonomous Volvo XC90 was outfitted with at least two video cameras, one facing forward toward the street and the other pointed at the driver's seat, Moir said. Her preliminary conclusions are based on viewing videos from these cameras. Tempe Police have not released the videos to the public.

In her interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Moir said that "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 she came from the shadows right into the roadway."

Herzberg was crossing the street outside of an intersection when the collision occurred. Moir noted that "it is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available."

Almost exactly a year ago, another Uber self-driving car was involved in a crash in Tempe. The car, which was operating in autonomous mode, was flipped on its side after colliding with a car whose driver had refused to yield the right of way. Officials said the driver of the other car was at fault.

"I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident, either," Moir said.

However, Tempe Police, along with the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are still investigating the incident. Moir said she would not rule out filing charges against the Uber safety driver if warranted. As for the car itself being at fault, Moir said that "This is really new ground we're venturing into."