The deadly Uber crash in Arizona, the first known fatality involving an autonomous vehicle in the U.S., is a setback for a state that has aggressively sought to become the nation’s test lab for driverless cars.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, has made welcoming technology companies to test their products in Arizona a hallmark of his administration. He has been particularly welcoming of the driverless car industry.
Less than a month ago, Gov. Ducey issued an executive order allowing driverless cars to motor on Arizona streets without a human, if the vehicles follow all traffic rules. It was an update of the 2015 order that first explicitly allowed driverless cars on the road.
The car that struck and killed 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Ariz., Sunday night was an Uber Technologies Inc. self-driving car in autonomous mode, with a human safety operator at the wheel.
“Our prayers are with the victim, and our hearts go out to her family,” said Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Gov. Ducey. “Our office is in communication with law enforcement. Public safety is our top priority.”
The accident occurred in a part of the greater Phoenix metro area that the governor and economic development groups have been promoting as a hub of sorts for the nascent driverless car industry.
States that have introduced legislation on autonomous vehicles
Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
Companies including Uber, Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo, General Motors ’ Cruise Automation and Intel have been testing self-driving cars in Arizona. Gov. Ducey’s recent order said more than 600 driverless vehicles are being tested on state roads.
Waymo has been testing vehicles in the Phoenix area without humans behind the wheel, and it plans to begin commercial robot taxi services there this year.
Since taking office in 2015, Gov. Ducey has made a point of cutting regulations for businesses, with an aim of making Arizona a hub for tech companies. n a statement announcing his March executive order, the governor said “our policies and priorities must adapt to remain competitive in today’s economy.”
In 2017, the governor’s office said it cut more than 600 regulations for an array of businesses in the state, and it plans on doing away with another 500 this year.
Each year he has been in office, the governor has issued an order placing a moratorium on regulatory rule-making by the state’s agencies. In 2016, he signed a bill prohibiting local governments from banning short-term rental companies such as Airbnb.
In 2015, the state passed a law allowing Arizonans to order their own lab tests. The law had been lobbied for by now-embattled blood-testing company Theranos, which had a major presence in Scottsdale. The government last week filed civil fraud charges against the company’s founder, who was stripped of voting control of Theranos under a settlement with federal regulators.
As Arizona ushers in this new technology testing, Gov. Ducey has said the state is committed to safety. In March of 2016, he created the Arizona Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee, intended to advise the state’s Department of Transportation on policies related to self-driving cars. His latest executive order established penalties for those testing or operating the fully autonomous vehicle. A human tester may be issued a traffic citation or another “applicable penalty” if the vehicle fails to comply with traffic or motor vehicle laws.
Last December, the governor welcomed self-driving Uber cars in front of the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix, after the company moved the cars from California following a dust-up with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
“California may not want you, but we do,” he said at the time.