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Uber Suspends Driverless-Car Program After Pedestrian Is Killed

. . . believed to be the first such fatality from an autonomous vehicle

A self-driving car from Uber Technologies Inc. struck a woman who died Monday in Tempe, Ariz., local police say, in what is believed to be the first known fatality of a pedestrian from a driverless vehicle.

Following the accident overnight, Uber is temporarily pulling its self-driving cars off the roads in Tempe, San Francisco, Pittsburgh and Toronto, where it is testing them, a spokeswoman said. She said Uber is investigating the incident and cooperating with authorities.

Tempe police said the Uber vehicle, which included a human operator to assist at the wheel, struck a woman while she was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk. The woman later died of her injuries, according to the police statement.

“Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona,” wrote Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Twitter Monday. “We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened.”

Both the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they were dispatching teams to Tempe to investigate the accident. NHTSA said it was contacting Uber, state and local authorities as well as Volvo, the car maker Uber relies on for its self-driving vehicles.

Volvo, a unit of China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co., said in a statement: “We are aware of this incident and our thoughts are with the family of the woman involved.”

The first known fatality of a pedestrian by an autonomous vehicle threatens to stir regulators and damage public perception of driverless vehicles, a critical project for auto makers and technology companies who feel they can reduce deaths and costs by eliminating human error. Uber has called its self-driving-vehicle efforts “existential” andjust wrapped up a costly lawsuit from rival Alphabet Inc. over allegedly stolen trade secrets.

Missy Cummings, a professor at Duke University, cautioned Congress in 2016 about companies rushing to put systems into widespread deployment and warned that a death could set back development of the potentially lifesaving technology.

“There is no question that someone is going to die in this technology,” she said. “The question is when and what can we do to minimize that?”

Congress, trying to balance safety while encouraging technology development, has been mulling legislation to clear up regulatory questions about autonomous-vehicle deployment. The legislation appeared to be moving quickly until stalling in the Senate this year under concerns about the safety of the technology.

Tesla Inc. TSLA -3.53% became the first auto maker to come under significant government scrutiny for a semi-autonomous driving system when a man driving one of its Model S electric cars operating with the company’s Autopilot system died in a May 2016 collision with a truck on a Florida highway.

Ultimately, NHTSA concluded Tesla’s technology didn’t contain a safety defect while the NTSB decided that the company shared blame in the crash by failing to include enough safeguards.

Tesla has said Autopilot significantly makes its vehicles safer and that the company would continue to evaluate recommendations as the technology evolves while ensuring drivers understand the system doesn’t render cars fully self-driving.

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