Uber Will Stop Testing Self-Driving Cars in Arizona After Fatal Crash

(UPDATE: Tempe Police Department concludes investigation into the fatal March 18 Uber crash, submits case for prosecutors' review. See below.)

Two months after a self-driving Uber hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, the company has decided to stop testing autonomous vehicles in Arizona.

The Arizona Republic's Ryan Randazzo reported this morning that Uber had notified about 200 Arizona-based employees who worked with the self-driving cars that they were being terminated. Also, ArsTechnica.com published an internal email from Uber executive Eric Meyhover, who wrote employees that Uber has made "the tough call to wind down operations in Phoenix."

According to the Republic, Uber plans to continue to test out its self-driving cars in Pittsburgh after the federal investigation into the Arizona crash is complete. Discussions about testing the cars in California — likely near San Francisco, where the company is headquartered — are also underway. 

Uber's self-driving cars had been pulled off the road after the fatal crash in Tempe, and the sudden absence of Volvo XC-90s with spinning devices on top was immediately noticeable on streets like Mill Avenue. But other companies like Waymo have continued to test out their autonomous vehicle technology in Arizona, and it's still possible that the driver next to you doesn't have his or her hands on the wheel.

Presumably, the bad PR over 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg's death played a role in Uber's decision to not restart testing in Arizona. But the company didn't say so in their statement to the Republic, instead citing the fact that their engineering hubs are based in Pittsburgh and San Francisco and that it's easier to test the cars there.

Being close to those engineering hubs wasn't such a priority for Uber when the company set up shop in Arizona, of course.

In December 2016, Governor Doug Ducey invited the company to Arizona after California banned its self-driving cars from public roads. The state's lax regulations made it possible for Uber to operate with minimal supervision, raising questions about who would be at fault if something went wrong.

In March, just weeks before the fatal crash, Ducey issued a new executive order detailing the rules and licensing requirements for self-driving cars.

In a Wednesday statement to the media, his spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said that the governor's focus "has always been on what’s best for Arizonans and for public safety, not for any one company."

UPDATE: After this article was published, Tempe police released the following statement about the investigation into the fatal March 18 Uber crash:

The Tempe Police Department has completed the traffic collision report involving the Uber self-driving vehicle. Earlier today, the in-depth traffic collision investigation was submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for review. This is still considered an active investigation and as a result, we will not be releasing the report or details of the investigation. Any information as to the outcome of the investigation will be available following the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office review and the completion of the investigation. 
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Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.