Uber’s self-driving cars are grounded after a fatal accident over the weekend — but a Cato Institute article questions if bad urban design was really to blame. Elaine Herzberg, the woman killed, seems to have been using a pedestrian path, which the institute described as poorly designed, before attempting to cross a street.


A fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona involving an Uber driverless car left in its wake questions about the safety of autonomous vehicles. But it seems “the accident could not have been prevented no matter who was in control of the car,” according to Randal O’Toole for the Cato Institute.

Related: Uber grounds all self-driving vehicles after fatal Arizona accident

Herzberg was reportedly walking on a roadway median before stepping out into traffic — and the Uber car, which did have a backup driver at the wheel, didn’t even have a moment to brake. The Cato Institute shared an aerial view, seen below, of Herzberg’s probable path. In between the northbound and southbound lanes of North Mill Avenue, there’s a median strip with a paved pedestrian path. There’s a sign, seen via Google Maps, indicating no pedestrians, telling them to use a crosswalk — so pedestrians or cyclists using the trails aren’t supposed to walk over the strip. But the Cato Institute pointed out the pedestrian path saves almost two-tenths of a mile, making it a tempting alternative for people walking or biking.

Cato Institute, Tempe, Arizona, map, aerial, Mill Avenue, pedestrian path
Photo by the Cato Institute

O’Toole was loath to blame the victim in his article, but didn’t think the car was at fault either. He said “the question that must be asked is why are there paved trails between the north and southbound lanes of Mill Avenue when there is no safe way for pedestrians to use those trails?”

Via Cato Institute

Images via zombieite on Flickr and Cato Institute