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A Fatal Crash Brings a Stop to Uber’s North American Testing of Self-Driving Vehicles

| Mar 27, 2018 | Automobile Accidents, News Articles |

Several different business entities, from General Motors to Uber to Google’s parent (Alphabet), have been striving to perfect the technology for self-driving vehicles. Toward that end, Uber had been conducting tests in three U.S. cities and Toronto until a recent accident in Arizona left a pedestrian dead, the New York Times reported. While the accident remained under investigation, and fault had not been placed on the Uber vehicle or the pedestrian, the ridesharing company still decided to cease testing all self-driving vehicles. With each new technology that hits the roads, there are new possibilities for accidents and injuries. If you’ve been hurt in a vehicle accident, you should contact an experienced Illinois car accident attorney about your situation.

The fatal Uber test occurred in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. According to police, a 49-year-old woman named Elaine was crossing the street outside the crosswalk on a Sunday night at around 10:00 pm. An Uber Volvo that was in fully autonomous self-driving mode struck the pedestrian, and the woman ultimately died from her injuries. While Arizona law currently allows companies like Uber to test its vehicles with no one in the driver’s seat, there was a human in the driver’s seat when the fatal accident in Tempe took place.

Uber had been conducting tests with its self-driving vehicles in four cities prior to the fatal accident in Arizona. Those cities included Phoenix, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Toronto. The company suspended all of those tests everywhere, pending the results of an investigation into the Arizona fatality.

Proponents of self-driving vehicles have touted them as a safer alternative to human-operated vehicles because self-driving vehicles don’t become distracted or fail to follow the rules of the road. While self-driving vehicles always follow the rules of the road, that algorithmic assumption also presents a potential safety problem. One of the challenges that has existed for these self-driving vehicles is how they respond to unexpected human behavior.

The events of the recent Arizona accident, which authorities and Uber are still investigating, shed some light on this. Police reports indicated that the pedestrian was crossing the street outside the crosswalk. Simply because a pedestrian crosses the street outside the crosswalk, though, doesn’t automatically make the pedestrian at fault for any accident that occurs. While the law in Illinois requires pedestrians crossing outside a marked crosswalk to yield to vehicle traffic, that is not the only relevant legal factor. Even if a driver has the right of way, he or she still has a legal obligation in Illinois to “exercise due care” to avoid hitting pedestrians in the roadway.

Thus, if the lighting and other factual details were such that they indicated that a driver should have seen a pedestrian in the road in time to take appropriate evasive action to avoid that pedestrian, the driver can still possibly be liable for hitting the pedestrian, even if the pedestrian was legally required to yield. Some have questioned the technology behind self-driving vehicles and its ability to respond to human variables (like pedestrians crossing outside the crosswalk or drivers committing traffic violations) and to exercise that due care to avoid accidents as required by the law. According to the Times report, “researchers working on the technology have struggled with how to teach the autonomous systems to adjust for unpredictable human driving or behavior.”

If you’ve been hurt in an Uber accident, make sure you retain skilled counsel. Contact the experienced Chicago car accident attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. Our team has been helping injured people for many years pursue the compensation they deserve. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Uber Suspends, Then Restarts, Driverless Vehicle Program After Arizona Crash, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, April 13, 2017

What Happens When You’re Injured by a Lyft or Uber Driver in Illinois?, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Jan. 12, 2017