A driver behind the wheel of an Uber autonomous vehicle couldn’t stop the death of a pedestrian hit by the car, pictured above. Photo via Skynews

Self-Driving Car Accident Fuels Ethical Concerns, Legal Debates

A woman pushing a bicycle darted into the road at 10 p.m. on March 18 in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix, according to police reports. She was struck by the self-driving Uber car and died at a local hospital shortly after the accident.

Police identified the pedestrian as Elaine Herzberg, 49, and said she began walking her bike across the street, outside of the crosswalk, from a traffic median in the shadows. It’s not clear whether her location will have any bearing on Uber’s legal liability. Television footage of the scene, shown in this report by Reuters, shows a twisted bike lying on a sidewalk near a visibly damaged SUV.

In an update to what made headlines as a historic first of the AI driving era, local Phoenix station KPNX pointed out the back-up driver in the car at the time of the accident was a felon who served time, which raised more questions about Arizona’s policies regarding autonomous vehicles. According to records from the Arizona Department of Corrections, the safety driver sitting in the front seat of the self-driving Uber, 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez, served several years in prison under the name Rafael Vasquez. Her charges included unsworn falsification and attempt to commit armed robbery. She left prison in 2005.

Arizona state law allows for convicted felons to work for ride-sharing companies as long as they meet specific requirements. That includes not being convicted of a violent crime for seven years and not being a registered sex offender.

An Uber spokesperson told 12 News Vasquez went through the company’s screening process and met all requirements.

Seeflection is staying on top of this news in part because of its location in Arizona, which has welcomed all tech companies to test their autonomous cars in the state. While this is the first pedestrian traffic fatality, automakers assert that the number of traffic deaths of any kind will drop in direct proportion to the number of autonomous vehicles on the road. Some think these vehicles will operate nearly perfectly in the near future with the help of quantum computers. However, some in the public are calling for abolishing autonomous cars after this accident.

We expect that self-driving vehicles will be a subject of debate for many years to come because of potential ethical and safety issues, as well as the potential for millions of driving jobs to be replaced by automation.

Read more on Uber Robocar Kills Pedestrian, Despite Presence of Safety Driver