A woman crossing a street was killed by an Uber self-driving sport utility vehicle in Arizona, police said on Monday, leading the ride services company to suspend its autonomous vehicle program across the US and Canada.
The accident in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe marked the first fatality from a self-driving vehicle, which are being tested around the globe, and could derail efforts to fast-track the introduction of the new technology.
The vehicle was in autonomous mode with an operator behind the wheel at the time of the accident, which occurred overnight Sunday to Monday, Tempe police said.
'The vehicle was travelling northbound ... when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle,' police said in a statement.
The woman later died from her injuries in a hospital, police said. Her name has not been released because her next of kin had not yet been notified, police said.
Tempe police could not immediately be reached for further comment. The city is 18 kilometres east of Phoenix.
The vehicle involved in the accident was a Volvo, a person familiar with the matter said. Local television footage of the scene showed a crumpled bike and a Volvo XC90 SUV with a smashed-in front.
An Uber Technologies Inc spokesman said the company was suspending North American tests of its self-driving vehicles. In a tweet, Uber expressed its condolences and said the San Francisco company was fully cooperating with authorities.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said they were sending investigative teams to probe the crash. NHTSA also said it was in contact with Volvo. The Swedish car brand is owned by China's Geely .
In Canada, the Ministry of Transportation in Canada’s Ontario province, which is overseeing Uber’s on-road autonomous testing in Toronto, said it was reviewing the accident.
'We will be following the situation in Arizona closely, and will consider what measures are appropriate as more becomes known,' said ministry spokesman Bob Nichols.
On Friday, Alphabet Inc's self-driving unit Waymo and Uber urged Congress to pass sweeping legislation to speed the introduction of self-driving cars into the US. The legislation has been blocked over safety concerns by some congressional Democrats, and Monday's fatality could hamper the quick passage of the bill, congressional aides said on Monday.
Fallout from the crash 'will likely prove negative for all auto makers and suppliers with aspirations in autonomous driving,” Buckingham Research Group analyst Glenn Chin wrote in a client note. 'A human fatality is likely to spur increased public and regulatory scrutiny of AVs around a process that is admittedly quite lax in the US.'
Uber is among one of many technology companies and automakers, including Waymo and General Motors Co's Cruise division, racing to ready self-driving cars for public use in coming years. Uber has been testing specially equipped Volvo XC90 crossovers in Pittsburgh and the Phoenix area.
Concerns over the safety of autonomous vehicles flared after a July 2016 fatality involving a Tesla Inc automobile. The car involved in that accident featured a partially autonomous system that required human supervision. Uber's vehicle, on the other hand, is considered a full self-driving vehicle where a human is not needed at the wheel.
Safety regulators later determined Tesla was not at fault in that accident.
Even when not regulated by state law, companies testing autonomous vehicles still sometimes place a driver at the wheel to monitor the car and take over in case of need.
Uber has weathered a series of crises, including sexual harassment claims, controversy over its use of a tracking tool to avoid government officials, and a high-profile lawsuit brought by competitor Waymo alleging theft of self-driving trade secrets. It settled that lawsuit last month, with Uber paying $245 million of its own shares to Waymo.