Uber 'not liable' for self-driving death

Anadolu Agency  Getty Images

Anadolu Agency Getty Images

Prosecutors have ruled that the company is not criminally liable for the death of Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was struck as she crossed a road in Tempe, Arizona.

Uber is not criminally liable for one of its self-driving cars hitting and killing a pedestrian in Arizona in March 2018.

The vehicle hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona in March past year, prompting the company to suspend testing of its self-driving technology.

The Yavapai County Attorney said in a letter made public that there was "no basis" for criminal liability for Uber, but that the conduct of the back-up driver, Rafael Vasquez, should be referred to the Tempe police for additional investigation. The objective of the expert analysis is to closely match what (and when) the person sitting in the driver's seat of the vehicle would or should have seen that night given the vehicle's speed, lighting conditions, and other relevant factors.

Since YCAO was involved in the case only due to the MCAO's relationship with Uber, Polk didn't make any recommendations about possible charges against Vasquez.

Miller wrote that, after one November 2017 incident, he felt a significant accident report was not receiving enough attention.

Police investigators found that the human operator inside the auto, Rafaela Vasquez, may have been streaming reality show The Voice at the time of the crash-though they also found Uber self-driving vehicles did not indicate to drivers when they should take manual control to avoid a collision. Yavapai sent the case back to Maricopa, calling for further expert analysis of the video to determine what the driver should have seen that night.

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The Volvo in question detected something in front of it six seconds before the crash but did not properly recognise it was a person, only concluding emergency braking manoeuvre was necessary 1.3 seconds before hitting Herzberg (with the car's built-in automated emergency brakes having been deactivated by Uber).

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not immediately comment on Tuesday.

In December, Uber filed confidentially for an initial public offering and is expected to seek a valuation of up to $120 billion.

The ride-sharing company, which a year ago lost about $3.3 billion, is betting on a transition to self-driving cars to eliminate the need to pay drivers. It released a preliminary report previous year that suggested the sensors on the Uber vehicle were working correctly, but that emergency braking manoeuvres may not have been enabled. There is no consensus on safety standards for the industry.

In March 2018, authorities in Arizona suspended Uber's ability to test its self-driving cars. The potential for a corporation to be charged with manslaughter raises multiple issues of novelty and legal first impressions.

The National Transportation Safety Board is also investigating the crash. It also adjusted its safety protocols, fired 100 self-driving vehicle operators to replace them with 55 "mission specialists", and halted testing until December 2018, when it renewed the program in a scaled-back manner. The company also said previous year it made improvements to the vehicles' self-driving software.

Uber has not resumed testing in San Francisco or Toronto, where it previously had programs.

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