Uber's driverless car fatally knocks pedestrian

For Uber, trouble keeps rupturing all the time. On Sunday, the American company saw its dreams of introducing driverless vehicles shattered when one of its ‘autonomous’ SUVs knocked off a woman pedestrian in Tempe near Phoenix in Arizona. The victim later succumbed to her injuries at a hospital.

The American National Transportation Safety Board is sending investigators to probe the accident involving the Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle, which had been fitted with Uber’s sensing system.

The car was in an autonomous mode, but had a human safety driver. There were no passengers in it when the woman was knocked down at 10 in the night.

Jason Levine, executive director, Center for Auto Safety, a US advocacy group, predicted that the accident would set consumer confidence in driverless technology back by years “if not decades.”

Incidentally, Arizona’s Republican governor Doug Ducey had a few days earlier signed an executive order making companies operating autonomous vehicles responsible for anything happening on roads including in the event of a murder.

Ducey has been wooing producers of self-driving cars to Arizona for the past three years; he had succeeded in getting Uber away from California to his state for testing the vehicles.

The US company, which also has extensive operations across Indian cities, was planning to go public next year, but the latest accident will once again derail its plans.

Uber has been battling several scandals around the globe and continues to face charges in many countries. The US Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into the use of software by the company that allegedly helped drivers evade local transport regulators (See: Uber probed for thwarting regulators).

Initially, Uber claimed the technology was deployed to prevent fraud and protect drivers, but later withdrew it after the scam broke out. Authorities in the US also plan to probe whether the company violated other price-transparency laws.

Uber’s founder Travis Kalanick quit last August after battling several cases around the globe and was replaced by Dara Khosrowshahi as the CEO (See: Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi to replace Kalanick as Uber CEO).

The new boss has been trying to settle many of the disputes .

Last month, for instance, the company agreed to pay $245 million to Alphabet Inc, after a case was filed against it for stealing trades secrets relating to self-driving vehicle technology (Uber chief Khorowshahi says $245-mn settlement with Waymo “well worthwhile”)

Even in India, Uber has been battling cases involving its drivers. About four years ago, a 26-year-old passenger was kidnapped and raped in an Uber car in India. She filed a suit against the company in the US and won the case; Uber had to settle the case with her.