A fine bit of political grandstanding.
After the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, last week, the governor of Arizona has suspended Uber’s autonomous vehicle testing program in the state. Governor Doug Ducey notified both Uber and the public in an open letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, calling the crash “an unquestionable failure. Ducey continued that "In the best interests of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber’s ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona’s public roadways.”
While police and NTSB officials are still investigating the fatality in which a self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a 49-year-old pedestrian, Governor Ducey added that he found the footage of the crash “disturbing and alarming, and it raises many questions about the ability of Uber to continue testing in Arizona.” Arizona was already the fallback for Uber’s self-driving car project, with about 100 autonomous cars on the road and hundreds of staff established since 2016. That's when Ducey welcomed Uber’s self-driving program with open arms after Uber butted heads with California lawmakers when their first autonomous cars were spotted running red lights and operating without permits.
While the governor’s letter is a fine piece of politician’s grandstanding, Uber had already pulled its self-driving cars off the road in Pittsburgh, Phoenix, San Francisco and Toronto pretty much immediately after the accident (as they always do in these instances), and released a statement saying it aims to “keep a dialogue open with the Governor’s office to address any concerns they have.” In Uber’s defence, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir came to the early conclusion that Uber was likely not at fault based on a preliminary investigation, stating “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.
Nonetheless, the incident has drawn attention to the lack of comprehensive safety regulations for autonomous vehicles and their operation. Governments are trying to stay out of their way so as not to stand in the way of progress, but Uber has repeatedly been involved in questionable incidents (and not just its self-driving program). While Uber is pinning its future hopes on driverless cars and drone taxis, it has an uphill battle to beat well-funded car companies and Waymo, funded by Google’s parent company Alphabet.