Weeks before fatal crash, mayor hailed Uber robot-car safety

A man operates a self driving Volvo vehicle, purchased by Uber, in Phoenix, Arizona, US on Dec 1, 2017.
A man operates a self driving Volvo vehicle, purchased by Uber, in Phoenix, Arizona, US on Dec 1, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - The mayor of the Arizona city where a pedestrian was killed by a self-driving car has been a vocal cheerleader for Uber Technologies Inc's efforts to use his streets as a test track for robot rides.

"Uber is really operating very safely on our roadways," Mark Mitchell, who was elected mayor in May 2012, said in a Feb 14 phone interview. "We're enforcing the traffic laws for everyone, whether it's autonomous or regular, law-abiding citizens."

Uber halted autonomous-vehicle tests after one of its cars struck and killed a woman in Tempe on Sunday (March 18) in what is likely the first pedestrian fatality involving the technology.

The greater Phoenix area, including Tempe and Chandler, Arizona, plays host to autonomous test cars from Uber, Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo, Intel Corp. and General Motors Co.

In an e-mailed statement Monday (March 19), Mitchell called the accident tragic and urged against drawing "conclusions prematurely" as the Tempe Police completes its investigation.

"When a bicyclist, pedestrian or motorist is killed, it should be an opportunity for Tempe to pause and think about what can be done to make our roadways even safer," he said.

"All indications we have had in the past show that traffic laws are being obeyed by the companies testing here," Mitchell added. "Our city leadership and Tempe Police will pursue any and all answers to what happened in order to ensure safety moving forward."