Arizona Suspends Uber’s Self-Driving Vehicle Testing After Fatal Crash

March 27, 2018

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has suspended Uber’s ability to test self-driving vehicles in the state following last week’s deadly crash. The crash, which occurred late at night in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg as she was walking her bicycle across a dimly lit city street.

In a letter sent Monday to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Ducey called the incident an “unquestionable failure” to meet public safety expectations.

The local police chief initially called the incident “unavoidable,” but sentiment quickly changed after the release of video of the crash. The video, which depicts both internal and external views of the Uber vehicle, shows the car’s safety driver looking down away from the road as a pedestrian suddenly emerges into the headlights.

The governor cited the video on Monday in both his letter and tweets about the crash.

“I found the video to be disturbing and alarming, and it raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona,” Ducey wrote in the letter.

He acknowledged ongoing investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration but said Arizona “must take action now.”

It is unclear how exactly the suspension will be enforced. Unlike California, Arizona does not have a permitting system for autonomous vehicles. An executive order signed by Ducey earlier this month requires only that testers submit a statement to state regulators attesting to their vehicles’ safety. The order did note, however, that “nothing in this order establishes a right to operate an autonomous vehicle in Arizona.”

According to a state Department of Transportation spokesperson, the suspension applies only to Uber. Arizona will continue to allow other companies to test autonomous vehicles.

Nonetheless, the announcement is a swift reversal for a state once called the “Wild West” of self-driving cars. In 2016, Ducey welcomed Uber with “open arms and wide open roads” as the company sought alternatives to California’s regulatory environment.

For its part, Uber says it will continue to cooperate with investigators. A spokesperson for the company told NPR that federal investigators have the vehicle, along with data from its onboard cameras and sensors. The spokesperson stressed Uber’s “proactive” steps in suspending testing after the crash, not only in Arizona but in all other test cities — Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

But the accident comes as yet another controversy for a company trying to position itself for a public stock offering. The past year has seen Uber struggle through a leadership crisis, a massive data breach, a sexual harassment scandal, and a high-profile trial ending in substantial concessions to its competitor, Google subsidiary Waymo.

The Uber spokesperson says the company is unable to comment on details of the crash. Last week, Uber’s CEO tweeted “we’re thinking of the victim’s family.”

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