Autonomous car hits, kills pedestrian

An autonomous car operating in self-driving mode hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday night, but police officials say their initial investigation suggests the Uber test vehicle was not at fault.

Sylvia Moir, the police chief in Tempe, said a review of videos taken by the vehicle and interviews with the emergency backup driver indicate 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg stepped abruptly from a center median into a lane of traffic and was hit by the Volvo sport utility vehicle. Herzberg, who police said may have been homeless, was pushing a bicycle laden with plastic bags.

“It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway,” Moir said.

Herzberg’s death is believed to be the first pedestrian fatality associated with self-driving cars.  Supporters of autonomous vehicles say the machines have the potential to eliminate traffic fatalities, but the tragic accident in Tempe is a reminder that the juxtaposition of people and cars in close proximity is a dangerous combination no matter who is driving or, in this case, not driving.

Uber responded by calling a halt to its autonomous vehicle testing in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto. Boston Mayor Marty Walsh responded to the accident by asking NuTonomy and Optimus Ride to stop their testing of autonomous vehicles in Boston.

The Tempe police investigation found that the Uber vehicle was traveling at 38 miles per hour in a 35 mile-per-hour zone. The vehicle made no attempt to brake before hitting Herzberg, according to police. The weather was clear and dry when the accident occurred at 10 p.m.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

A House bill that would tax short-term rentals is facing opposition from realtors and Airbnb, even though the company in the past has practically begged lawmakers to tax its business. The company called the House bill “onerous and overly burdensome.” (Gloucester Times) Meanwhile, Boston city councilors are seeking to bar investors from purchasing properties and renting them out on a short-term basis on platforms such as Airbnb. (CommonWealth)

The House and Senate have taken initial votes in favor of a bill that would allow the town of Charlemont to impose a 3 percent tax on commercial recreational activities that originate or go through the town. The tax would apply to activities such as skiing, zip lining, whitewater rafting, kayaking, river tubing, mountain coaster rides, mountain biking, and guided fishing trips. (MassLive)

The Registry of Motor Vehicles is going dark Thursday night as it switches over to a new software system and gears up for a new driver’s license renewal process that will require residents to appear in person at RMV or AAA offices. (CommonWealth)

State Rep. Diana DiZoglio, who took on Speaker Robert DeLeo over nondisclosure agreements with terminated House employees, said some of the people who had harassed and gossipped about her, including some elected officials, remain on Beacon Hill. (Greater Boston)

Gov. Charlie Baker defended his administration against a Boston Globe report that his budget secretary hired lots of fellow Wellesley residents he was friends with while state revenue commissioner, saying all the hires were qualified. “So we’re going to outlaw people from Wellesley from working in the administration?” Baker asked sarcastically. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Angry cable TV subscribers in Pittsfield complained about the cost of renting converter boxes from new provider Spectrum, which is owned by Charter Communications. (Berkshire Eagle)

The Worcester Redevelopment Authority wants the cash-strapped Worcester Regional Transit Authority to help pay for a police presence at Union Station. (Telegram & Gazette) Meanwhile, the redevelopment authority is going to try to come up with a new strategy to find tenants to fill the largely vacant commercial space at the station. (Telegram & Gazette)

The Barnstable County Retirement Board is appealing a judge’s ruling overturning the agency’s decision to deny benefits to a former Provincetown employee who claimed a disability pension based on stress from the job. (Cape Cod Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In a speech in New Hampshire, which has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic, President Trump calls for the death penalty for opioid traffickers and slammed so-called “sanctuary cities” like Boston and Lawrence for protecting illegal immigrants. (Boston Globe) Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and Gov. Charlie Baker decry Trump’s comments about Boston and Lawrence, with Rivera accusing the president of “trafficking in pain and divisiveness.” (Eagle-Tribune). Baker, however, declines to weigh in on Trump’s call for the death penalty for drug traffickers. (MassLive) A Herald editorial takes a glass-half-full view of Trump’s speech, saying if one looks past its incendiary elements, it should be encouraging to see bipartisan agreement on the need to tackle the problem.

Two people were injured in an explosion in Austin, Texas, on Sunday night in what is likely the fourth in a series of bombings that have terrorized the city. (Time)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency extended a benefits cutoff date, allowing Puerto Rican evacuees to continue receiving shelter assistance until May 14. (MassLive)

Congressional underfunding caused canceled “dress rehearsal” tests of software to conduct the federal online census in 2020, leaving officials concerned the Census Bureau may not be ready to fulfill its constitutional mandate to perform the decennial population count. (U.S. News & World Report)

ELECTIONS

Lori Trahan, a candidate for Congress in the Third Congressional District, lifted a portion of her stance on guns from other sources. (Lowell Sun)

The wave of female candidates running for Congress this fall is likely to result in a wave of losses. (WBUR)

A Stoughton selectman candidate, who is also legal counsel for the town of Arlington, says he won’t apologize for a profile picture he used on his Facebook page several years ago that depicts a distorted image of a black man with enlarged lips and nose, which he said he found “humorous.” (The Enterprise)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Alex Stamos, Facebook’s security chief, is leaving the company amid reports of conflict over how to address the social media network’s role in spreading “fake news” during the 2016 election, with Stamos reportedly arguing for full transparency. (New York Times) An undercover video suggests Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, thought dirty tricks were effective in swaying elections. (Channel 4 News)

EDUCATION

State Education Secretary Jim Peyser pushes “innovation partnership zones,” and tells lawmakers that more funding is not always the key to education success. (State House News)

Lawmakers are eyeing a civics course requirement as a standard for high school graduation. (State House News)

A 16-year-old student was arrested for making shooting threats at Methuen High School. (Eagle-Tribune)

Five women say movie director James Toback assaulted them at the Harvard Club in New York City between 1980 and 2012. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments in early April on a petition backed by Steward Health Care System challenging the constitutionality of a proposed November ballot question to regulate nurse staffing levels and prevent reductions of other staff to maintain those levels. The petition claims the two elements are not sufficiently related to be joined in a single question. (Boston Herald)

The National Institutes of Health solicited donations from the alcohol industry to conduct a study that would show a daily drink was part of a healthy diet. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

T notes: State transportation officials approve a contract to replace the North Washington Street Bridge between Charlestown and the North End, including a dedicated bus lane…Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack says it will take at least nine months to sort out the state’s plans for Turnpike reconstruction in the Allston area…No repeat of the St. Patrick’s Day vandalism that occurred on the commuter rail last year…And more. (CommonWealth)

City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is making transportation issues a central focus of her work, says in a Codcast conversation with CommonWealth that Boston should have a greater voice in the operation of the MBTA, whose service she calls “unpredictable” and overcrowded. She also weighs in the proposed Summer Street gondola and says she and Mayor Marty Walsh made a pact to take a bike ride together.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The world’s last northern white rhino died. (Associated Press)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Somerset voters approved zoning changes to allow recreational marijuana to be grown and manufactured in the town’s industrial areas. (Herald News)

Add Weymouth to the growing list of communities banning the sale of legal pot after the Town Council approved the measure. (Patriot Ledger) The Marlborough City Council approved a moratorium on all recreational pot businesses while Medway Town Meeting upheld a ban approved by voters that prohibits sales but could allow testing, cultivating, or manufacturing. (MetroWest Daily News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A federal judge denied a prosecution motion to alter his planned jury instructions in the corruption trial of two aides to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a move that prosecutors say “will preclude the government from proving its case.” (Boston Herald)