While there was a human driver behind the vehicle when 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was struck, the vehicle was operating in fully autonomous mode at the time. This is the first accident [that we know of] involving an autonomous vehicle that has resulted in the death of a pedestrian.
Self-driving vehicles have been sharing the roadways with everyday drivers (and pedestrians) for nearly a decade. Google spearheaded these efforts first with modified Toyota Prius hybrids, and then with Lexus RX 450h hybrids. Today, Google subsidiary Waymo continues that testing with modified Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans.
Uber's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi took to Twitter to express condolences, as did the official press account for the company:
Some incredibly sad news out of Arizona. We’re thinking of the victim’s family as we work with local law enforcement to understand what happened. https://t.co/cwTCVJjEuz— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) March 19, 2018
Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We’re fully cooperating with @TempePolice and local authorities as they investigate this incident.— Uber Comms (@Uber_Comms) March 19, 2018
As a result of the tragic accident, Uber has pulled all of its autonomous vehicles off the road as its investigates what went wrong and cooperates with local authorities. Speaking of which, the Tempe Police Department shed a little bit of light onto what happened, saying in a statement:
On March 18, 2018 at approximately 10pm, Tempe PD responded to a traffic collision on Curry Road and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. The vehicle involved is one of the Uber’s self-driving vehicles. It was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision, with a vehicle operator behind the wheel. The vehicle was traveling northbound just south of Curry Road when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle.
What's unclear is if Herzberg darted out into traffic, not giving the car enough time to slowdown (or give the human driver time to take over -- which should happen in the event of an emergency). It could have also been an instance where she was walking in the road in clear sight of the vehicle's sensors with enough of a margin for response time to take evasive actions, yet the vehicle for some reason didn't react as it should have.
Whatever the case, a person is dead and this could change the way that self-driving technology is perceived (and regulated) around the United States.