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Uber ends driverless testing in Arizona after fatality

Uber is to suspend all self-driving vehicle tests in the state of Arizona after one of its cars hit and killed a woman as she crossed the road in March.

The incident happened as the woman was crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona, and is believed to be the first confirmed pedestrian death caused by a fully self-driving vehicle. 

The decision means Uber will not be bringing back its self-driving cars to the streets of Arizona, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles.

However, the company is not shutting its entire autonomous vehicle programme and will focus on limited testing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and two cities in California, a spokeswoman said.

The ride-hailing company aims to resume self-driving operations this summer, likely with smaller routes and fewer cars, she said.

“We’re committed to self-driving technology, and we look forward to returning to public roads in the near future,” the spokeswoman said.

Uber considers driverless technology to be critical to maintaining its early lead in the ride-hailing market as Waymo and other rivals prepare to enter the field with robotic vehicles that may be able to offer cheaper fares.

About 550 Uber employees will remain in Arizona working on its other operations in the state, including its traditional ride-hailing service with cars driven by humans responding to requests made through a mobile app.

Uber brought a fleet of self-driving cars to Arizona at the end of 2016, just days after the vehicles were banned from California for not having the proper permits at that time.

California’s action prompted Arizona governor Doug Ducey to send out a derisive tweet in an effort to persuade Uber to bring its self-driving cars to his state. “This is what OVER-regulation looks like!” he wrote.

Ducey prohibited Uber from continuing its tests of self-driving cars after Herzberg was run over, a ban that a spokesman said remains in effect.

“The governor’s focus has always been on what’s best for Arizonans and for public safety, not for any one company,” said Ducey’s spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.

Relatives of Herzberg ultimately reached a financial settlement with Uber soon after the incident, forestalling a potentially lengthy legal battle over the first-known fatality involving an autonomous vehicle. 

The fatal collision added to the headaches vexing chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi as he tries to repair the damage done by a regime led by his predecessor, Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick.

The company is trying to recover from a wave of revelations and allegations about rampant sexual harassment in Uber’s workforce, a cover-up of a massive data breach, dirty tricks and stolen trade secrets.

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