In a tragic crash, an autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian last week in Arizona. The self-driving car was driving 38 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone, according to the New York Times. The Governor of Arizona has halted all self-driving car demonstrations throughout the state until an investigation is completed.
Previously, Arizona has been at the forefront of self-driving vehicles with its permissive laws and flat, dry landscape. In 2017, Governor Doug Ducey declared the state a “regulation-free” zone for companies interested in testing autonomous vehicles. “We needed our message to Uber, Lyft and other entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to be that Arizona was open to new ideas,” Gov. Ducey said at the time. When an Uber vehicle collided with another vehicle back in March, the Arizona Governor downplayed the significant, describing the accident as the fault of the other driver. Last month Gov. Ducey issued another executive order permitting cars on the streets without a human behind the wheel, the first state in the country.
However, that changed on Sunday, March 18 when a Volvo XC90 owned by the ride-sharing company Uber struck a woman with a bicycle who walked in front of the vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. The car also had a human driver behind the wheel, who was apparently unable to see the pedestrian either. The weather was clear and dry.
Uber immediately halted its testing of autonomous vehicles until after the authorities release their report. Promising to cooperate with the police, Uber spokeswoman, Sarah Abboud, said “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.”
This accident comes right as states were preparing to loosen the regulations on self-driving cars. California is planning to allow autonomous vehicles without humans later this year. At the same time, the federal government is considering legislation to pre-empt state regulations on self-driving technology. Under a bill currently being proposed in the Senate, states would not be allowed to write their own safety laws on autonomous vehicles and manufacturers would not be required to follow the safety requirements that apply to human-driven vehicles. Similar legislation has already passed the House of Representatives and the President has signaled he favors a lighter regulatory touch. In the days that have immediately followed the accident, it is still unclear if there will be any significant blowback on the industry.
Speaking to the New York Times, Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “This tragic incident makes it clear that autonomous vehicle technology has a long way to go before it is truly safe for passengers, pedestrians, and drivers who share America’s roads.”
In New York, the Cuomo administration has taken a slower approach to self-driving technology. A pilot program is currently being tested in the state, and all vehicles must have a human driver, a police escort, and a preplanned route that has been approved by government regulators. While the heavy-handed approach was criticized at the time, New Yorkers may now be breathing a sigh of relief. At the same time, the Governor of Arizona’s ties to Uber are being more closely scrutinized.