Uber shuts down self-driving operations in Arizona two months after fatal crash

Uber has said it considers self-driving technology important to the future of its ride services, although it is not clear how it fits into the plans of Dara Khosrowshahi.

Uber has shut down its self-driving car operation in Arizona two months after a fatal crash involving one of its vehicles, the company said on 24 May.

Uber self-driving car. Reuters.

Uber self-driving car. Reuters.

Uber Technologies Inc is not shuttering its entire autonomous vehicle programme and will focus on limited testing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and two cities in California, a spokeswoman said.

The ride-hailing company aims to resume self-driving operations this summer, likely with smaller routes and fewer cars, she said.

“We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future,” the spokeswoman said.

Arizona’s wide, flat roads, good weather and corporation-friendly regulations are considered ideal to test autonomous vehicles. Uber now faces the challenge of testing in congested, urban cities with rain, fog, snow and ice.

It must also repair its relationship with regulators in California, where it lacks a testing permit, and in Pittsburgh.

Uber has said it considers self-driving technology important to the future of its ride services, although it is not clear how it fits into the plans of new Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi. He has revamped the company structure and cut certain expenses as Uber prepares for an initial public offering next year.

Uber suspended its programme in Arizona and elsewhere immediately after one of its SUVs operating in autonomous mode hit and killed a woman crossing the street on a March night in Tempe, marking the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle.

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey suspended Uber’s self-driving testing - a little more than a year after giving the company a warm reception and poking fun at California’s stricter regulations.

“The governor’s focus has always been on what’s best for Arizonans and for public safety, not for any one company,” Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, said on Wednesday.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, was walking her bicycle outside the crosswalk on a four-lane road when she was struck by the Uber vehicle travelling at about 40 miles (64 km) per hour. A safety operator behind the wheel appeared to be looking down, and not at the road, moments before the crash, according to video from inside the car released by police.

The crash is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board. Uber will wait until the agency issues its preliminary report on the crash, expected within the next couple of weeks, before it puts its self-driving cars back on the road. The company is also undergoing a review of its autonomous car programme and has hired former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise on safety.

Uber’s self-driving Volvo SUVs in Arizona will be moved to other cities and employees will be offered assistance in finding another job, the company spokeswoman said.

Pittsburgh was Uber’s first city for autonomous car testing, starting in 2016. However, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said in a statement 23 May that Uber had not told him its plans to resume testing.

“I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again,” Peduto said.

The Uber spokeswoman said the company was in discussions with California regulators, the governor and city officials to operate in San Francisco and Sacramento, although it does not have a timeline.

“Sacramento stands as a willing partner,” said Louis Stewart, the city’s chief innovation officer.

Sacramento has held conversations with many autonomous vehicle developers, and is not deterred by Uber’s crash in Arizona. The city wants to work with Uber to make sure its technology is safe, but sees no need “to jump right in and regulate even more how these cars operate,” Stewart said.

Uber briefly had an autonomous car programme in California in late 2016, but the state Department of Motor Vehicles shut it down after about a week because Uber had failed to obtain the necessary permits. The company had argued that state laws did not apply to its self-driving programme, but its defiance was met with threats of legal action from the DMV and the state attorney general. Uber moved its cars to Arizona.

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