Self-Driving Uber Fatality Could Complicate Regulations

April 03, 2018

A self-driving car operated by Uber Technologies Inc. (Uber) struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona last month. The incident has led policymakers to revisit concerns over autonomous vehicle (AV) regulations where currently, in the absence of any preemptive federal legislation, developers of AV technology face a complicated patchwork in which rules differ from state to state. The accident serves as a wake-up call that AVs, while they may inevitably be the future of transportation, are still far from perfect. Accidents, such as the one in Tempe, could not only further prolong the enactment of federal legislation, but could also lead to additional regulatory reactions among the states that will further complicate the regulatory landscape.

The car involved in the accident was part of Uber’s AV testing program. The program made its home in Arizona due to the state’s favorable regulations and optimal weather conditions. At the time of the accident, the vehicle was operating in full “autonomous mode” but also had a safety driver behind the wheel to take control of the vehicle if the autonomous system failed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the matter. The results of these investigations, coupled with public reaction, could significantly impact policy decisions moving forward.

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