Government agencies react to Uber’s fatal self-driving car accident

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Earlier today, news broke of a fatal crash involving one of Uber’s self-driving cars in Tempe, Arizona. In response, Uber halted its self-driving car programs where it currently operates, including in Pittsburgh, Toronto, San Francisco and Phoenix. The U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell and others have since released statements about the crash.

In a statement to TechCrunch, the NHTSA said it has sent over its “Special Crash Investigation” team to Temple. This is “consistent with NHTSA’s vigilant oversight and authority over the safety of all motor vehicles and equipment, including automated technologies,” a spokesperson for the agency told TechCrunch.

“NHTSA is also in contact with Uber, Volvo, Federal, State and local authorities regarding the incident,” the spokesperson said. “The agency will review the information and proceed as warranted.”

Over in Tempe, Mitchell called the accident “tragic,” saying the city grieves for Elaine Herzberg, the woman who lost her life.

“The City of Tempe has been supportive of autonomous vehicle testing because of the innovation and promise the technology may offer in many areas, including transportation options for disabled residents and seniors,” Mayor Mitchell said in a statement. “All indications we have had in the past show that traffic laws are being obeyed by the companies testing here.”

Moving forward, the city of Tempe and its police department will look into the accident to try to figure out what happened, Mitchell said. In the meantime, Mitchell said he supports the step Uber has taken to temporarily suspend its self-driving tests.

Over in California, where Uber has also suspended its self-driving car tests, the DMV says it “takes the safe operation of our autonomous vehicle permit holders very seriously,” a DMV spokesperson said in a statement to TechCrunch.

“The California DMV has many requirements in place for testing permit holders and requires collision reports and annual disengagement reports,” the spokesperson said. “We are aware of the Uber crash in Arizona, but we have not been briefed on the details of the crash at this time. We plan to follow up with Uber to get more information.”

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay), who is also chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, also chimed in, saying his “heart goes out to the family of the victim.”

He added,

Unlike Arizona, California has taken a safety driven approach when developing autonomous vehicle regulations. Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives a year, but they have to be tested properly to protect the public. My Committee plans on having a hearing in May that will focus on the safety of these vehicles.

Earlier today, the National Safety Transportation Board announced it would conduct its own field investigation. That came after Uber’s statement, in which the company expressed its condolences and said the company is working with local authorities in their investigation.

I’ll update this story as I learn more.

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