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A self-driving car has hit and killed a woman in the southwestern United States in what is believed to be the first fatal pedestrian crash involving the new technology.
Police said Monday a self-driving sport utility vehicle owned by the ride sharing company Uber struck 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was walking outside of a crosswalk in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. She later died in a hospital from her injuries.
Uber said it had suspended its autonomous vehicle program across the United States and Canada following the accident.
Police say the vehicle was in autonomous mode, but had an operator behind the wheel, when the accident took place.
Testing of self-driving cars by various companies has been going on for months in the Phoenix area, as well as Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto as automakers and technology companies compete to be the first to introduce the new technology.
The vehicle involved in the crash was a Volvo XC90, which Uber had been using to test its autonomous technology. However, Volvo said it did not make the self-driving technology.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board said they are sending a team to gather information about the crash.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expressed condolences on Twitter and said the company is working with local law enforcement on the investigation.
The fatal crash will most likely raise questions about regulations for self-driving cars. Arizona has offered little regulations for the new technology, which has led to many technology companies flocking to the state to test their autonomous vehicles.
Proponents of the new technology argue that self-driving cars will prove to be safer than human drivers, because the cars will not get distracted and will obey all traffic laws.
Critics have expressed concern about the technology’s safety, including the ability of the autonomous technology to deal with unpredictable events.
Consumer Watch, the nonprofit consumer advocacy group, called Monday for a nationwide moratorium on testing self-driving cars on public roads while investigators figure out what went wrong in the latest accident.
“Arizona has been the Wild West of robot car testing, with virtually no regulations in place,” the group said in a statement.
Democratic Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, who is a member of the Senate transportation committee, said there must be more oversight of the technology. He said he is working on a “comprehensive” autonomous vehicle legislative package.
“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” he said.
Concerns over the safety of autonomous vehicles increased in July 2016 after a fatality involving a partially autonomous Tesla automobile. In that accident, the driver put the car in “autopilot” mode, and the car failed to detect a tractor-trailer that was crossing the road. The driver of the Tesla died in the crash. Safety regulators later determined Tesla was not at fault.
However, critics have expressed concerns about the safety of the technology, including the ability of the autonomous technology to deal with unpredictable events.