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

PHOENIX – A day 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 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.

Ducey, who in 2015 said driverless cars “will reduce congestion, it will save lives on our highways and city streets,” called the fatal accident “disturbing and alarming.” His order cites public safety as the reason.

Read Ducey’s letter to Uber

Ducey tweeted his thoughts about the accident that killed Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was crossing Mill Avenue in midblock. “Public safety comes first,” Ducey tweeted.

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.”

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

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