Alana Mattei is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE).
On the night of March 18th, tragedy struck in Tempe, Arizona, when an autonomous vehicle operated by Uber struck and killed a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg.  This incident marks the first time that a self-driving car has been involved in a fatal collision. Self-driving cars are a relatively new technological development that has been released onto the streets for testing in some areas. In 2015, three years prior to Herzberg’s death, Arizona governor Doug Ducey made an executive order in support of autonomous vehicles. The order instructed that Arizona agencies “undertake any necessary steps to support the testing and operation of self-driving vehicles on public roads within Arizona.”  This order, like a similar law passed in California, requires that a human operator monitors the vehicle and has the ability to take control of its movement if necessary.
Technology and law are moving increasingly closer. Just a little over a week ago, the California DMV proposed new regulations in support of driverless cars.  Notably missing from these regulations is a test for the vehicles by anyone other than their own manufacturer before they hit the road. Under these regulations, companies will “self-certify” their vehicles and no test will be performed by a third-party. Herzberg’s death shows that more oversight is necessary in the testing of these vehicles on public roads. A lack of proper testing before the technology is released could lead to similar incidents in the future. Thus, it may be necessary for a human to remain in the driver’s seat in order to develop the legal basis for autonomous vehicles. The vehicle that struck Herzberg did in fact have a human in the driver’s seat who was there precisely to stop such a thing from happening.
If it truly was the case that a technological failure led to Herzberg’s death, then it must be the case that more inspections are needed for the self-driving vehicles themselves. Some experts assert that the car’s sensors should have sensed Herzberg with enough time to slow down or stop the vehicle before she was even hit.  Still, the car that struck Herzberg did not appear to slow down at all before the impact.  This represents a very clear and fatal failure of technology. The ability for the vehicle to prevent a collision on its own every time, without the intervention of a human driver, needs to be made a priority. While the technology is being fine-tuned, it is essential that each time such a vehicle is operated, a trusted, trained, and attentive human sits in the driver’s seat. In Herzberg’s case, this human safeguard, Rafaela Vasquez was at the very least, inattentive, as footage from inside the vehicle shows her glancing away from the road in the moments leading up to the impact 
The development of driverless vehicles need not be halted. It is clear, however, that development of such technology requires extreme caution. If Herzberg’s death demonstrates anything, it is that these vehicles are not ready to be fully autonomous with our current technological capabilities. The incident also points to the fact that both the vehicles themselves and the humans in the driver’s seat need to be inspected thoroughly before being released onto the road. Hopefully, developers have received the message that they still have some serious improvements to make on their product before it comes to market. One can only hope that Herzberg’s death demonstrates to lawmakers that perhaps the introduction of legal support for fully autonomous vehicles needs to be delayed until more technological developments are made.
 Wakabayashi, Daisuke. "Self-Driving Uber Car Kills Pedestrian in Arizona, Where Robots Roam." The New York Times. March 19, 2018. Accessed March 22, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/19/technology/uber-driverless-fatality.html?mtrref=undefined.
 “Autonomous Vehicles | Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation.” National Conference of State Legislatures, March, 26, 2018. .http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-self-driving-vehicles-enacted-legislation.aspx
 Stewart, Jack. "California's Finally Ready to Embrace Truly Driverless Cars." Wired. June 03, 2017. Accessed March 22, 2018. https://www.wired.com/2017/03/californias-finally-ready-truly-driverless-cars/.
 Kerr, Dara. "Was Uber's Driverless Car Crash Avoidable? Experts Say Yes." CNET. March 23, 2018. Accessed March 23, 2018. https://www.cnet.com/news/was-ubers-driverless-car-crash-avoidable-some-experts-say-the-self-driving-car-should-have-braked/.
 Darrah, Nicole, and Stephen Sorace. "Dashcam Video of Deadly Self-driving Uber Crash Released." Fox News. March 22, 2018. Accessed March 23, 2018. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/03/22/dashcam-video-deadly-self-driving-uber-crash-released.html.
Photo Credit: Flickr User smoothgroover22
The opinions and views expressed through this publication are the opinions of the designated authors and do not reflect the opinions or views of the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, our staff, or our clients.