Uber reportedly tested its experimental autonomous vehicles in Arizona with the blessing of Gov. Doug Ducey -- and without telling residents -- months before the self-driving car program was officially announced and nearly two years before a woman was struck and killed by an autonomous vehicle in the state.
Emails obtained by The Guardian show Ducey cozying up with the ride-hailing service and allowing the company to test its driverless vehicles in the state months before he made the details public.
It’s unclear if tougher state regulations on autonomous vehicles would have prevented the recent fatal crash, but in the wake of the accident, Ducey has been accused of failing to enforce stricter safety rules and not informing the public of when the self-driving vehicles hit the road.
The relationship between Ducey and Uber appeared to have begun shortly after the governor was sworn into office in 2014, according to The Guardian. Uber reportedly began to entice Ducey into becoming a more Uber-friendly state, despite his predecessor, Gov. Jan Brewer, vetoing legislation that could have exempted companies such as Uber from certain insurance regulations.
Months after a January 2015 meeting with Uber senior vice president David Plouffe, Ducey signed a bill legalizing ride sharing in Arizona. Officials from Uber and Lyft were in attendance and Ducey was even offered an Uber shirt to wear during the ceremony, according to The Guardian.
Uber would open its Phoenix office in June 2015 and two months later Ducey signed an executive order allowing for the “public testing and operation of autonomous cars” as long as human drivers were inside the vehicles in case of an emergency, according to The Guardian.
After Uber announced its plan to launch autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, an August 2016 email from the company to Ducey’s office reportedly showed the service offering to launch the driverless vehicles in Arizona.
Danny Seiden, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, received an email from Uber notifying him that the driverless cars would launch that upcoming weekend and the company wanted to give Phoenix police a “discreet heads up” on the program, The Guardian reported.
Ducey welcomed the autonomous vehicles into the state officially in December 2016 after California refused the vehicles on its roads due to Uber’s lack of testing permits. However, the governor didn’t mention that it had allowed Uber to test the driverless cars in August of that year, according to The Guardian.
Last week’s fatal crash brought things to a standstill. Police and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the incident.
Ducey suspended Uber from testing the vehicles in the state Monday following the crash.
Around the time of the crash, about half of Uber’s 200 autonomous vehicles were in Arizona. However, 17 days before the crash, Ducey signed an executive order allowing “fully driverless vehicles on Arizona’s roads, as long as companies claim that their vehicles comply with federal safety standards.”
It was not immediately clear how much Arizona made by allowing Uber to test its autonomous vehicles on state roads.
Ducey’s spokesman, Patrick Ptak told Fox News in a statement, “Allegations that any company has 'secretly' tested self-driving cars in Arizona is 100 percent false.”
“From the beginning, Arizona has been very public about the testing and operation of self-driving cars -- it has been anything but a secret. The Governor's Executive Order allowing for the operation and testing of driverless calls was signed a year prior to this email being sent. Additionally, it was well known that companies were operating self driving cars,” Ptak said.
Ptak also said the office did comment on The Guardian's article and the story has been updated since publication.