Preface: This crash has nothing to do with bicycling other than the pedestrian was pushing a bicycle at the time.
3/18/2018 night-time (10pm?) mid-block pedestrian fatality might not even be reported in the news; but this being the first reported AV (Autonomous Vehicle) traffic fatality (in the world?!), it’s huge news.
For those that might not know, Arizona and the Scottsdale / Tempe / Chandler area in particular, is a hotbed of AV; with both Waymo (formerly Google) and Uber operating hundreds of fully AVs. This is characterized as a open-arms policy of Arizona’s Gov. Ducey, compared to some dustups in CA, causing Uber to famously decamp for Scottsdale late 2016, see Uber is shipping its self-driving cars to Arizona after being forced out of SF.
NTSB announced they are sending a team to investigate circumstances. It would be great if the NTSB would send a full team to any of the other 40,000 or so traffic fatalities per year.
A March 2017 uber-involved two vehicle no-injury crash is discussed here.
Tempe police have released an abnormal amount of information; again, normally none of this would even be mentioned. They’ve released the name of pedestrian (Elaine Herzberg), the name of the (“backup”) driver(Rafaela Vasquez), the speed of the vehicle (38mph), where the crash occurred (Mill Ave about 100 yards south of Curry), the direction of the vehicle (northbound on Mill), the direction of the pedestrian (crossing from west to east). As well as some other perfunctory information (e.g. no impairment noted). And that video footage is available and has already been viewed by police.
All this signals that from the rules of the road perspective, a driver (always) has a duty to exercise “due care”; and a pedestrian has a duty to yield to all vehicles mid-block …
§28-793, Crossing at other than crosswalk
A. A pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway…
§28-794. Drivers to exercise due care
Notwithstanding the provisions of this chapter every driver of a vehicle shall:
1. Exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian on any roadway.
2. Give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.
3. Exercise proper precaution on observing a child or a confused or incapacitated person on a roadway.
There’s possibly other duties for the ped, e.g. the is a “no ped xing” sign nearby (longer treatment of “jaywalking” here but it wouldn’t change the duties for this crash.
So according to the all the many details released by police; the ped failed to yield the right of way; and the (human) driver by all accounts was exercising due care by traveling at reasonable speed (if slightly above the posted speed limit), and was not impaired. Those who have viewed (e.g. Tempe police chief) have stated the pedestrian emerged from shadows, and the collision was “unavoidable”. (I wrote that after police looked at the video but before it was released to the public on 3/21; after viewing I’d say two things: 1) the driver was looking down/away at the time; and 2) the forward dashcam video is probably misleading relative to what a human eye of average ability can see in low light conditions)
Aside: the posted speed limit seems to be 45mph (that sign is northbound on the bridge just 1/10th mile or so south of the scene); it was mis-reported (typo?), e.g. an sfchronicle article said “Traveling at 38 mph in a 35 mph zone on Sunday night, the Uber self-driving car made no attempt to brake, according to the Police Department’s preliminary investigation.”. The speed limit continues to be mis-reported as 35mph, e.g. print (3/22 front page) and online (3/21 7pm) azcentral.
The error probably stems from the fact that the speed limit is posted 45mph northbound, but 35mph southbound in the area; the vehicle was northbound, not southbound. The disparity in directions is probably due to southbound feeds into downtown.
Tempe Police distributed the Uber’s video on 3/21 (sooner than I would have expected; again, this is high profile) via their twitter. It appears to show that a human would not been able to avoid the ped; it appears to show that the autonomous systems should have been able to detect and avoid or mitigate the crash — which it apparently did not… The forward dashcam video is probably misleading compared to what a human eye can see in low light conditions.
(Autonomous Vehicle). Referring to the diagram from a NYT news article — the mystery clearly is that the uber’s AV equipment apparently entirely failed to detect the pedestrian; as it was reported the vehicle had not slowed before the crash.
The vehicle’s speed, 38mph, is 56 feet per second.
The pedestrians speed wasn’t stated but a very fast walk might be say 6mph, is 8.8fps.
The crash occurred as the pedestrian crossed four lanes of traffic, and the impact was to the right side of the vehicle (the ped was crossing from left to right). That’s something like 40 feet in the roadway (around 5 seconds). Not enough time for a vigilant and attentive human driver to react perhaps — but certainly enough time for an AV to “see” something and begin to slow.
Did the car’s “vision” system fail to detect the danger, or what? This will certainly come out of the NTSB’s investigation.
Again, highly unusual, but Tempe Police held a News conference: just a couple of exchanges that caught my attention:
Q: “was she homeless?”
A: “I don’t have that information… but i believe she may have been”.
Q: “do you know if it was one of those yellow bikes that you just pick up and…”
A: “Yeah, I know that’s new information here, and, uh, I don’t have that information at this time”
The latter a reference to some dockless bike share issues that have popped up lately. The same area that is heavy with AV is coincidentally heavily bike-shared with, besides Grid (which is docked), Ofo, Limebike, and Spin operating recently.
Initially Chief Moir said, “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident.” Later, Moir expanded on her remarks, saying the “Tempe Police Department does not determine fault in vehicular collisions.” quoted in arstechnica
Chief Moir is not correct. Police investigating crashes in Arizona are charged with the duty to determine who, which traffic unit, is “Most at Fault“, this is straight out of the Crash Form Instruction Manual.
Based on all the info released so far, Tempe PD is clearly signaling that the pedestrian will be assigned Traffic Unit #1, (“most at fault”); with a “failed to use crosswalk” in the violations/behaviors block. And furthermore the Uber’s unit will have “no violations” in the behavior/violations block.
Getting back to what Chief Moir said; it’s been suggested that when she said “fault” she actually meant “charges”, as in criminal charges against the driver. That makes more sense — The police investigate crashes and make a recommendation and referral, the (county) attorney charges (serious) crimes, and if he declines — which is a near certainty in cases w/o impaired drivers — the city attorney will then consider lesser charges or infractions. In this case the county attorney would be considering something like negligent homicide, and will decline. And I can’t think of any lesser charges (edit: see below about cell phone ordinance); but a “due care” or “failure to control” infraction is plausible
The dashcam video released by Tempe Police (that was supplied by Uber) is highly misleading; it has very poor dynamic range, in it the pedestrian seems to “appear out of shadows / out of nowhere”. Here’s a concise explanation of that effect:
Sean Alexander, of Crash Analysis & Reconstruction LLC, concurred. “Video makes everything in the light pattern brighter and everything out of the beam darker. A human eye sees it much clearer,” he said.
A human eye (had one been looking) would have easily seen somebody walking there; or so it seemed to many locals who felt the Uber video seems way too dark and shadowy. To demonstrate that, a number of night-time youtube videos of the area have popped up, mentioned in an arstechnica article with this pithy title Police chief said Uber victim “came from the shadows”—don’t believe it here’s one (the spot of the crash is at 0:34):
Was Chief Moir duped? She said way back on Monday, quoted from the sfChron interview:
“it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway,”
Duped or not, it now lends the appearance that Tempe Police are in cohoots with Uber. Police are usually/normally much more circumspect; why would non-other-than the Chief say Uber’s video makes things “very clear”, especially less than one day after the incident?
Unlawful use of a mobile electronic device?
Separate from all that, the video released by Uber clearly shows the driver spending a lot of time looking down at something (off camera); was it a phone? Might this constitute a violation of Tempe’s Sec. 19-55. Unlawful use of a mobile electronic device. ? Note that in the case of a serious crash, “he or she was involved in a motor vehicle accident that results in great bodily harm, permanent disability, disfigurement, or death”, it’s irrelevant who caused the crash, and that in the case of death, the violation becomes a Class 1 (most serious) misdemeanor.
Strangely there’s what appears to be a pedestrian plaza with brick pavers in the median right in the area of the fatality, with no particularly legal way to reach it on foot — all four “entrances” to the X shaped path are marked no ped xing).
3/26 Gov. Orders Uber to halt testing AV
So this is in essence symbolic, since Uber already self-suspended, but in any event
“In the best interests of the people of my state, I have directed the Arizona Department of Transportation to suspend Uber’s ability to test and operate autonomous vehicles on Arizona’s public roadways.” bizjournals.com