Uber Suspends Tests of Self-Driving Vehicles After Arizona Crash

Uber Suspends Tests of Self-Driving Vehicles After Arizona Crash

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Uber’s modified Ford Fusion sedans in Pittsburgh last year.

Credit
Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

Uber said on Saturday that it was suspending the testing of its self-driving vehicles, a day after one of the vehicles was involved in a collision in Tempe, Ariz.

The Uber vehicle, which had a person in the driver’s seat but was in self-driving mode, was not at fault in the accident, according to Josie Montenegro, a Tempe Police Department spokeswoman. Uber’s Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle was hit when the driver of another car failed to yield, she said. The collision caused Uber’s vehicle to roll over onto its side.

Ms. Montenegro and an Uber spokeswoman, Chelsea Kohler, confirmed the accident on Friday evening and said neither driver suffered serious injuries.

“We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no back-seat passengers in the vehicle,” Ms. Kohler said in a statement.

Ms. Kohler said on Saturday that Uber was suspending the testing of its self-driving vehicles in Arizona, pending the results of the investigation of the accident. She said Uber had also suspended testing in Pittsburgh and San Francisco for the day, and possibly longer.

The news of the accident was first reported by ABC-15, an Arizona affiliate station.

The incident comes at a difficult time for Uber, which for the last two months has fielded multiple crises involving the company’s workplace culture and business practices. Earlier in March, The New York Times reported the existence of a tool called Greyball, which Uber engineers used to skirt authorities cracking down on Uber drivers worldwide. In addition, Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, was forced to apologize for his aggressive behavior after Bloomberg published video of a verbal altercation he had with an Uber driver.

Although Uber was not at fault in the Arizona accident, the incident is problematic for the company, a start-up based in San Francisco, which has gone head-to-head with regulators as it has tried to persuade cities to allow public testing of its autonomous vehicles. Google, General Motors and Ford Motor Company are all testing autonomous vehicles in California and have registered to do so.

After a successful introduction of the autonomous vehicle program in Pittsburgh last year, Uber ran into obstacles in December, when it tried to begin the testing of self-driving vehicles in San Francisco without registering for permits. The permits require companies to disclose the number of accidents their vehicles have been involved in.

Shortly after the San Francisco testing began, one of Uber’s self-driving cars failed to recognize a stoplight and sailed through a crosswalk. The car was driving itself at the time, according to internal documents reviewed by The Times.

After the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registrations for Uber’s self-driving cars, the company took its vehicles to Arizona for testing, where the governor did not require the company to seek autonomous testing permits.

Google, which has long tested self-driving vehicles in California, has also been in a number of accidents over the years. Typically, those accidents have been the fault of the other drivers.

Auto companies working on self-driving technology face the difficulty of building smarter vehicles that must not only adhere to the rules of the road but must also account for the error-prone nature of human drivers, a far more difficult variable.

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