Uber self-driving cars suspended from Arizona roads; Waymo moves ahead

Self-driving Uber cars will not be tested on Arizona streets for the foreseeable future. (Photo by Chelsey Ballarte/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Hours after Gov. Doug Ducey suspended self-driving Uber cars on public roads, Waymo on Tuesday announced plans to begin ride-hailing service in metro Phoenix by the end of the year.

Ducey’s order came in response to the release of a dash-cam video of a fatal pedestrian accident March 18 in Tempe involving a Uber vehicle driving in autonomous mode. The order does not affect other driverless-car testing in the state.

Uber, in a statement on Twitter, said it has suspended robotic-car testing in all the cities in which it operates and is fully cooperating with investigators.

Ducey, who in 2015 said the driverless car “will reduce congestion, it will save lives on our highways and city streets,” called the video of the accident “disturbing and alarming.” His order cites public safety as the reason. He later tweeted that federal authorities will be called in to help local investigators, and he warned that innovators hoping to operate in Arizona must “demonstrate they are ready for primetime.”

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Ducey tweeted his thoughts about the accident that killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was crossing Mill Avenue in midblock. Arizona will continue to promote innovation, Ducey tweeted, but “Public safety comes first.”

Uber released a statement on Twitter in response to Ducey’s order.

“We proactively suspended self-driving operations in all cities immediately following the tragic incident last week” it said. “We continue to help investigators in any way we can, and we’ll keep a dialogue open with the Governor’s Office to address any concerns they have.”

Uber, Waymo, Ford, GM, Toyota and other companies have been testing driverless cars in metro Phoenix for several years. Ducey’s administration has encouraged such innovation in Arizona, calling driverless cars “the future.”

Waymo, which is owned by Google parent Alphabet Inc., said it is partnering with Jaguar to outfit all-electric F-Pace SUVs with its technology and, after more testing, launch a ride-hailing program by the end of 2018.

In a live stream Tuesday, Waymo CEO John Krafcik noted that 94 percent of U.S. crashes involve human error, a statistic that Waymo’s self-driving cars can change.

He also said Waymo’s technology would have detected the pedestrian and avoided the fatal crash that killed Herberg, who was jaywalking her bicycle in a dark stretch of Mill.

Waymo’s mission statement is to, “make it safe and easy for people and things to get around.” Krafcik’s first step to developing self-driving technology that it is “safe and reliable.”

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