Self driving car crash comes amid debate about regulations

Uber responded by briefly suspending its self-driving cars in its three testing locations.

A crash that caused an Uber self-driving SUV to flip onto its side in a Phoenix suburb serves as a stark reminder of the challenges surrounding autonomous vehicles in Arizona, a state that has gone all-in to entice the company by promising minimal government regulation.

Friday night’s crash was blamed on the driver of an oncoming SUV that turned left in front of the Uber vehicle carrying two test drivers and no passengers. There were no serious injuries and the driver of the other car was cited for a moving violation. But images of Uber’s Volvo SUV rolled onto its side reverberated heavily on social media.

Uber responded by briefly suspending its self-driving cars in its three testing locations – Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh — as it investigated the accident.

Uber’s self-driving car program is rolling out amid questions about how much government regulation it should endure on issues such as accidents, insurance and reporting instances in which the person behind the wheel in test cars needs to take control of the vehicle.

The San Francisco-based startup endured a shaky December rollout in California — including running red lights — that culminated in a standoff between Uber and state regulators who wanted more transparency and reporting.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey seized the opportunity and used lax regulations to entice Uber, which decided to ship more than a dozen SUVs to metro Phoenix.

“California may not want you, but Arizona does,” said Ducey, who took the first ride as a passenger in Uber’s self-driving cars last month.

Uber spokeswoman Taylor Patterson said the company is operating more than a dozen of the 21 vehicles it has registered in Arizona. Some pick up passengers.

In Arizona, companies such as Uber only need to carry minimum liability insurance policies to operate self-driving cars. They are not required to track crashes like the one that occurred in Tempe on Friday or report any information to the state.

That means that self-driving test cars are essentially treated like all other cars on the road.

Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said in a March 3 interview that the cars are safe and there is sufficient oversight under existing automobile rules.

“There’s a driver in the car,” he said. “The state oversight is: There are not cars without drivers in them.”

John Simpson of the California-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said Ducey has abandoned his responsibility to protect the public by buying into the hype surrounding Uber.

“It’s a fundamental responsibility of a governor of a state to make sure that when companies are using the state’s public highways as their own private laboratories, that there is some obligation to protect public safety,” Simpson said. “There are no rules in Arizona.”

In March, Uber obtained permits for two of its Volvo SUVS to again hit the streets in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P.
Transcontinental Media G.P.