Can Self-Driving Car Movement Survive Its First Fatality?

The deadly collision between an Uber autonomous vehicle and a pedestrian near Phoenix is bringing calls for tougher self-driving regulations, but advocates for a hands-off approach say big changes aren't needed.

Police in Tempe, Arizona, say the female pedestrian walked in front of the Uber SUV in the dark of night, and neither the automated system nor the human backup driver stopped in time. Local authorities haven't determined fault, and federal transportation authorities say they won't release any findings on the crash until their investigation is complete.

Current federal regulations have few requirements specifically for self-driving vehicles, leaving it for states to handle. Many, such as Arizona, Nevada and Michigan, cede key decisions to companies as they compete for investment that will come with the technology.

No matter whether police find Uber or the pedestrian at fault in the Sunday crash, many federal and state officials say their regulations are sufficient to keep people safe while allowing the potentially life-saving technology to grow. Others, however, argue the regulations don't go far enough.

"I don't think we need to jump to conclusions and make changes to our business," said Michigan State Sen. Jim Ananich, the minority leader. He and other Democrats joined Republicans to pass a bill last year that doesn't require human backup drivers and allows companies wide latitude to conduct tests.

Ananich called the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg a tragedy and said companies need to continue refining their systems. "I want that work to happen here, because we have a 100-year history of making the best cars on the planet," he said. "It's not perfect by any means, and we are just going to have to keep working until it is."

Proponents of light regulations, including the Trump administration's Transportation Department, say the technology could reduce the 40,000 traffic deaths that happen annually in...

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