Uber shutters its driverless-car operations in Arizona

After a fatal crash in the state earlier this year, the ride-hailing company says it will focus on its program in Pennsylvania.

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Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
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The XC90 pictured here is the make of the vehicle involved in the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona.


Uber has decided to stop its self-driving car program in Arizona.

The ride-hailing company said Wednesday that it will pull out of the state and that all its nearly 300 test drivers there will be terminated. The news was first reported by Arizona Republic. The move comes after one of Uber's driverless cars killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March while in full autonomous mode. 

The accident happened at night and was captured by video cameras inside the car. One video shows footage of the pedestrian walking her bike across a dark road at the moment of impact. Another video shows the ride-along safety driver sitting at the wheel constantly glancing down at her lap. She looks up just as the car collides with the pedestrian. The video is graphic and difficult to watch.

Tempe police say the car didn't slow down or swerve as the pedestrian appeared on the road. It hit her while it was traveling at 38 mph.

For the most part, testing of autonomous technology has shown driverless cars to be safe. But it's still a work in progress. The vast majority of vehicle tests haven't been done on public roads, and the cars are still learning how to drive. The accident with Uber's driverless car is the first known fatality with a vehicle in full autonomous mode.

Uber has been working with the Tempe police, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the US Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a joint investigation to determine who, or what, was at fault in the accident. 

"We're committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future," an Uber spokeswoman said. "In the meantime, we remain focused on our top-to-bottom safety review, having brought on former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise us on our overall safety culture."

Aside from ending operations in Arizona, Uber has temporarily halted its self-driving operations in all cities where it's been testing its vehicles, including Tempe, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. 

The company said it will resume testing of its autonomous vehicles once the preliminary report from the federal investigation is done, which could be as soon as this summer. The NTSB told CNET the final report could take at least a year to complete.

Uber had a good relationship with Arizona in the past. For instance, after the company's self-driving car program was suspended in California in 2016, Uber packed up the vehicles and moved them to Arizona. The state's governor, Doug Ducey, welcomed Uber with open arms. 

Uber went on to pioneer its self-driving semi-truck program in the state, rolling out a fleet of autonomous big rigs to move freight across the state. However, after the self-driving car crash in Tempe, Ducey said he was suspending all of Uber's autonomous tests on state roads.

In a letter to Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in March, Ducey said he found the video of the deadly collision "disturbing and alarming." 

Along with its self-driving car program, Uber said it's also pulling its driverless truck program from Arizona. It said it will likely begin its truck operations again in another state, when the time is right. The company said it also has the ability to test the trucks at its autonomous vehicle headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Though Uber's self-driving program was suspended in California in 2016, the company is back on good terms with the state. It said it's been in talks about autonomous-vehicle testing with California Governor Jerry Brown, the state's department of motor vehicles and the cities of San Francisco and Sacramento. The timeline for resuming these tests is unclear.

As for the nearly 300 employees who were terminated in Arizona, Uber said it will help them with services like resume and interview preparation, professional training and one-on-one coaching as they search for a new job. Uber's core ride-hailing business will continue operating in Arizona, along with its Uber Eats food delivery service.

First published May 23, 9:49 a.m. PT
Update, 11:53 a.m.: Clarifies that the number of terminated employees is nearly 300.

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