(TNS) — Mayor Martin J. Walsh wants two firms to hit the brakes on their autonomous vehicle tests on Boston streets after a woman was killed by an Uber self-driving car in Tempe, Ariz. — even with a “safety driver” behind the steering wheel.
But the companies as of last night had no comment on what their plans are, even as Uber suspended its testing nationwide.
“As a precautionary measure, we have temporarily asked NuTonomy and Optimus Ride to pause their autonomous vehicle testing programs on public streets in Boston,” City Hall Transportation Commissioner Gina Fiandaca said in a statement last night. “The Boston Transportation Department will be working with both companies to review their safety procedures to ensure each program can move forward.”
Police are investigating the woman’s death Sunday night, the first known pedestrian fatality by an autonomous vehicle on a public road. Uber spokeswoman Sarah Abboud said the ride-hailing company was waiting to collect information from the driver, who was uninjured, as well as the vehicle itself.
But Uber yesterday suspended testing of the more than 200 self-driving cars it operates — half of them in Tempe since February 2017 and the rest in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto — in response to Sunday’s fatal crash, Abboud said.
U.S. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) called on Uber to fully investigate the crash and share that information with other autonomous vehicle developers — as well as with the public — to prevent any more crashes.
Markey and other senators already have placed a hold on a Senate bill that could authorize widespread use of the vehicles, demanding more robust safety measures before it proceeds.
“This tragic accident underscores why we need to be exceptionally cautious when testing and deploying autonomous vehicle technologies on public roads,” Markey said in a statement. “If these technologies are to reap their purported safety, efficiency, and environmental benefits, we must have robust safety, cybersecurity and privacy rules in place before these vehicles are traveling our roadways to prevent such tragedies from occurring.”
NuTonomy was the first company to operate in Boston, initially in the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, before it began giving limited rides to Lyft customers with human safety operators in the driver’s seats last year.
“NuTonomy is unable to comment on your story at this time,” a company spokeswoman said. Lyft did not respond to a request for comment.
In January, Optimus Ride, also based in the South Boston industrial and office park, became the second company city officials approved to carry passengers in autonomous vehicles. Optimus Ride also did not respond to a request for comment.
At the state level, Massachusetts Transportation Department spokesman Patrick Marvin said, “MassDOT will await the outcomes of any investigation in Arizona so that we can understand exactly what happened and what role the autonomous technologies played. MassDOT’s current process for AV testing, in which we partner with the city of Boston, has boundaries set forth, equipment requirements and other elements in place to help ensure public safety as AV testing occurs.”
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