Journalists’ Roundtable: Driverless Uber cars leave Arizona, changes at City Hall
May 25, 2018
A special edition of Journalists’ Roundtable invites opinion writers and columnists to talk about Uber taking driverless cars out of the state and changes in City Hall.
Arizona loses Uber driverless cars
Uber pulled their driverless cars out of Arizona a day before the federal government was going to come out with a report. In March, a driverless Uber was involved in a fatal accident as it hit a woman crossing the street in Tempe.
The National Transportation Safety Board says the woman shouldn’t have been crossing the road where she was and that there was methamphetamine in her body, but Uber is also at fault. Uber had previously disengaged the automatic braking system which causes the car to stop when it detects something six seconds before impact. The human in the vehicle was looking down and was not aware of the incident because the disengagement of the safety system also caused no alarm to go off for the passenger.
“Why would you have the emergency braking system of both Uber software and the Volvo factory install system turned off?” says Abe Kwok, deputy opinions editor at AZ Central. “That means it would suggest to the average person that the human driver is monitoring the road. In this case she wasn’t. It raises questions that Uber hasn’t talked about and the governor’s office hasn’t talked about.”
One of the areas of concern when it comes to the governor’s office is that there is no sign of oversight with the Uber driverless runs. The cars are licensed like any other car, then the local government defers to the federal government.
“They [Uber] aren’t telling us exactly how they’re managing the program,” says Alvia Diaz, La Voz editor and editorial columnist. “That’s why we had been tough on Governor Ducey and saying it’s on him because he’s the one that allowed this company to come and do this without oversight. It is on him for allowing this.”
While Uber is now out, there are still transparency issues, Kwok says. The public has no way of knowing how many companies are currently testing driverless cars, where they’re operating and when.
Arizona education chief v. evolution
State Superintendent Diane Douglas is proposing that evolution be removed from state science standards, and educational materials should include wording that suggests evolution “may” be the explanation to biology.
“I think she wants a curriculum that casts considerable doubt about whether it’s really the way we evolved,” says Laurie Roberts, metro columnist at AZ Central . “Of course, 99.9999 percent of scientists are pretty sure this is the fundamental backbone of biology.”
Kwok says once the recommendation reaches out for public input it will be shut down. Even if “more reasoned folks” prevail, he says, “it is not our best moment.”
Control of public records
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has released a request for police departments to go through him for public record requests. Montgomery says he’s already been doing this for three years, but his new proposal comes with a penalty if police departments don’t go through him.
“He’s not the boss of the police, first of all,” Roberts says. “I think he’s trying to do more than just standardize this thing… In a time of controversy about police shootings I would think that the police as well as the public want to be able to see what happened here. He’s a prosecutor, and prosecutors never want to release anything.”
Kwok mentions in the county attorney’s letter he says the demand for videos from the body cameras worn by police officers have been in such high demand that they’re being “inconsistently applied.”
“The timing of this whole thing doesn’t seem coincidental,” Roberts says. “He writes this letter and sends it out just as Chief Williams [of the Phoenix Police Department] is about to unveil her transparency policy.”
Stanton announces for Congress
Mayor Greg Stanton announced last week that he will be resigning from office effective this week so he can run for Congress. He will be running for the Congressional District 9 seat currently held by Kyrsten Sinema, who is running for U.S. Senate.
The two major contenders to fill his seat are Democratic council members Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela. Republican Moses Sanchez has also announced he will be running, but Kwok doesn’t expect the Democrats to lose power in city council.
“Phoenix has been a home for progressives and Democrats for a long time,” Kwok says. “I don’t see the dynamics changing dramatically. I think that some of the issues underlying issues that are at the center of the elections will have to be dealt with including pension reform and the safety needs of the city.”
Arpaio Senate run official
Former Sheriff Joe Arpaio turned in more than 10,000 signatures when he announced his Senate run was official. Roberts says Arpaio experienced his first hiccup right off the bat, as he was unable to answer questions during the impromptu press conference.
Diaz says she thinks he will ride it out for as long as he is able to. She says he’s serious enough to take votes away from other candidates, but he himself is not a serious candidate.