The police department of Tempe, Arizona has released footage of the fatal accident involving an Uber self-driving car that took the life of a pedestrian. The crash took place on March 19, and involved a Volvo vehicle operating under Uber’s self-driving software. The accident is the world’s first reported case of a death caused by a self-driven vehicle, and has naturally brought upon questions regarding the safety of self-driving technology. Additionally, many have questioned whether self-driving vehicles are safe for trials on public roadways yet.
The footage was released by the Tempe Police Department through its official Twitter account, and is extremely graphic. Although the video freezes right before the impact, it could still be upsetting for a lot of viewers, and hence viewer discretion is advised. The footage is from two cameras – one looking straight ahead and captures the moments leading up to the crash, with a second shot inside the cabin of the vehicle where the vehicle’s human operator is seated. From the footage, it appears that there were no passengers in the vehicle at the time of the crash.
Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating
the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available. pic.twitter.com/2dVP72TziQ
— Tempe Police (@TempePolice) March 21, 2018
From the video, it appears that the self-driving vehicle isn’t completely at fault, as the pedestrian emerges out of the shadows while jaywalking on the road. The pedestrian pushing a bicycle emerges out of a dark segment into the area made visible by the vehicle’s headlights at the last possible moment, negating any possibility of bring the vehicle to halt safely.
However, information gathered suggests that the vehicle was moving at 38mph on a road where the speed limit is 35mph, so the car was overspeeding slightly. Many people suggest that the accident took place in such a manner that it would have been impossible to prevent even by a regular vehicle operated by a person, and that the Uber self-driving system simply did not have the ability to prevent the accident. The human operator of the vehicle in question was also completely taken by surprise, as can be seen in the footage. Additionally, the operators eyes also left the road on a couple of occasions right before the crash, which would be counter-productive to having the operator in the vehicle in the first place. The operator has the ability to override the self-driving system at any time, through application of brakes or steering.
Nonetheless, this will serve as a big blow to both Uber and the very idea of autonomous vehicles. Self-driving technology has been pushed as a safer alternative to human-driven vehicles, as the system is designed to follow the rules of traffic strictly and can theoretically detect obstacles and people in the way using cameras and sensors well before a driver might be able to do the same. This latest crash will raise questions as to the effectiveness of self-driving technology, and whether we’re ready to allow real-world trials of the technology just yet.