Uber ‘likely not at fault’ in self-driving car fatality, say police

ARIZONA/SAN FRANCISCO: Uber was likely not at fault in a self-driving car fatality, authorities said on Monday, though concerns have been raised over possible challenges faced by the promising technology.

Ms Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe about 10pm on Sunday (Monday morning, Singapore time) when she was struck by the Uber vehicle travelling at about 65kmh, police said.

The Volvo XC90 SUV was in auto mode with an operator behind the wheel. Ms Herzberg later died from her injuries in a hospital, police said.

"The pedestrian was outside of the crosswalk. As soon as she walked into the lane of traffic she was struck," Tempe Police Sergeant Ronald Elcock told reporters at a news conference.

He said he did not yet know how close the victim was to the vehicle when she stepped into the lane.

The San Francisco Chronicle late on Monday reported that Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said that from viewing videos taken from the vehicle "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".

Ms Moir told the Chronicle: "I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident."

But she did not rule out that charges could be filed against the operator in the Uber vehicle, the paper reported.

This is the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle and a potential blow to the technology expected to transform transportation.

The ride services company said it was suspending North American tests of its self-driving vehicles.

So-called robot cars, when fully developed by companies including Uber, Alphabet Inc and General Motors Co, are expected to drastically cut down on motor vehicle fatalities and create billion-dollar businesses.

But Monday's accident underscored the possible challenges ahead for the promising technology as the cars confront real-world situations involving real people. - REUTERS