Self-driving Uber vehicle strikes, kills 49-year-old woman in Tempe

In the nation’s first pedestrian death involving an autonomous vehicle, a 49-year-old woman was hit and killed by a self-driving Volvo operated by Uber while crossing a street in Tempe on Sunday night.

Forty-nine-year-old Elaine Herzberg was walking a bike across Mill Avenue outside of the crosswalk near the Marquee Theatre at about 10 p.m. when she was hit, police said.

Sgt. Ronald Elcock, a Tempe police spokesman, said the car was in autonomous mode with a driver behind the wheel when it hit the pedestrian.

Herzberg, who was homeless, died at a hospital.

Elcock said impairment did not initially appear to be a factor of either the Uber operator or Herzberg. He also said that it was not apparent that the Uber vehicle attempted to slow down as it approached Herzberg.

Uber’s vehicle operators are on hand to take over if the cars can’t negotiate a traffic situation and to drive manually when they are in areas where the cars are not programmed to drive themselves.

Uber’s self-driving vehicles use cameras and lidar to detect obstacles and also have cameras aimed at the vehicle occupants. Lidar is similar to radar but uses light instead of radio waves to detect objects.

Elcock said he had reviewed video captured by the vehicle but declined to further describe the accident.

“It will definitely assist in the investigation, without a doubt,” he said, adding that another press conference was being planned for Tuesday.

Uber and Tempe police initially provided different names for the vehicle operator.

Uber identified the driver as Rafaela Vasquez, 44. The company later clarified that the name provided by police is a name used in Vasquez’s legal documents.