Uber Not Liable in Self-Driving Crash That Killed Woman

But the driver could still face charges over fatal crash in Arizona last year
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 6, 2019 9:05 AM CST

(Newser) – An Arizona prosecutor has determined that Uber isn't criminally liable in a crash last year in which one of its self-driving SUVs fatally struck a pedestrian in suburban Phoenix. But it's not known whether prosecutors are considering charges against the driver in the March 18 crash in Tempe that was the first US fatality involving a self-driving vehicle. Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said in a letter Tuesday that her office was returning the case to prosecutors in Phoenix to determine whether to file criminal charges. In her letter to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, the AP reports that Polk said her office concluded that video of the crash likely didn't accurately depict the collision and recommended that Tempe police seek more evidence. Elaine Herzberg, 49, was pushing a bicycle across a street in the darkness when the crash occurred.

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The driver, Rafaela Vasquez, said she didn't use her cellphone before the crash, but authorities had said records showed Vasquez was streaming The Voice on her phone and looking downward moments before the crash. An Uber rep declined comment on Polk's letter. Vasquez told police Herzberg "came out of nowhere" and that she didn't see her prior to the collision, but officers calculated that had Vasquez been paying attention, she could have reacted and stopped the SUV before hitting Herzberg. The NTSB released a report in May saying the autonomous driving system on Uber's Volvo XC90 SUV spotted Herzberg before hitting her, but it didn't stop because the system used to automatically apply brakes in potentially dangerous situations had been disabled "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior." Instead of the system, Uber relies on the human backup driver to intervene. (Read more self-driving car stories.)

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