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SAN FRANCISCO – A driverless car Uber hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, on Sunday night, according to local police.

Uber's car was in autonomous mode when the accident occurred, but it had a safety driver on the wheel as is the norm when testing autonomous vehicles.

Uber issued a statement saying it was "fully cooperating with local authorities." The company that stops has temporarily suspended its self-driving tests as a result of the incident in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toro nto, as is its policy after any accident.

The woman, who has not been named, was crossing the designated crosswalk at around 10 p.m. when she was hit, the police said.

Sgt. Ronald Elcock, a Tempe police spokesman, confirmed to the US Network. TODAY that the car was in autonomous mode with a driver behind the wheel when it hit the pedestrian. There were no passengers in the car at that time.

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Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, tweeted on Monday that the company had "incredibly sad news of Arizona, I'm thinking of the victim's family as we work with the local police to understand what happened. "

This is the first known pedestrian death related to a driverless car, which is being developed in part to drastically reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities. Some 40,000 people died in traffic accidents last year.

The incident will surely aggravate the concerns of some activists, such as Consumer Watchdog, who feel that the technology that allows cars to perceive that their environment is not ready for prime time.

GM's competition does not stop: slowly but surely, Waymo is deploying its own fleet of autonomous taxis. (Photo: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles)

Uber and Waymo, the name of Google's autonomous automotive company, have been aggressively testing autonomous cars in the Phoenix area for a few years.

Waymo has been picking up passengers from the beta program on their Pacifica minivans for automatic driving since last year, and later this year plans to open the program to a broad public in Phoenix.

The company has also just started operating without a safety controller supervising the trip from the passenger seat.

It is still too early to say whether the fatality will slow the feverish pace of the progress of the driverless car. Large automakers and technology companies have accelerated their efforts to develop commercially viable self-sufficient cars, which promise a number of benefits.

Paramount is its ability to reduce the large number of traffic accident deaths, which are partly due to distracted driving in the era of the smartphone.

But driverless cars, powered by electricity, would also be a great boon to harassing companies such as Uber and Lyft, whose business models are currently hampered by paying drivers.

Contributor: Gabrielle Olivera and Ryan Randazzo with The Arizona Republic.

Follow the USA TODAY technology writer Marco della Cava on Twitter.

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