US prosecutors have ruled that Uber is not criminally liable for the death of a woman, who was struck by one of its self-driving vehicles.
In March 2018, one of Uber’s self-driving cars was involved in the fatal accident after it hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona, while in the car was in autonomous mode.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, died from her injuries after she crossed the Arizona road late at night, right in front of the Uber self-driving car.
The fatality in Tempe, Arizona, was thought to be the first death caused by an autonomous vehicle on public roads.
Tempe police said the Volvo XC90 SUV was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, with a single human safety driver.
Following the accident, Uber suspended tests in Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto. The company’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi called the incident “incredibly sad”.
But now prosecutors have studied the footage from the accident, and ruled that Uber was not criminally liable.
The Yavapai County Attorney was quoted by Reuters as saying in a letter that there was “no basis for criminal liability” for Uber, but that the back-up driver, Rafaela Vasquez, should be referred to the Tempe police for additional investigation.
It has emerged that the human safety driver Vasquez could be facing charges of vehicular manslaughter.
Reuters said that Vasquez has not previously commented and could not immediately be reached on Tuesday.
The police have studied a video taken inside the car, and alleged that Vasquez was looking down at the time of the crash, and is alleged to have been watching a streamed episode of the television show “The Voice” on a phone seconds before the crash.
Vasquez only looked up a half-second before hitting Elaine Herzberg, and police called the incident “entirely avoidable.”
The fatal accident was a big blow to the self-driving car sector. Other firms also temporarily halted their testing after the accident.
Uber has only partially resumed testing of its self-driving cars. It has left Arizona altogether, but has resumed limited self-driving car testing in Pittsburgh, where their cars are restricted to a small loop they can drive only in good weather.
However it has not resumed testing in either San Francisco or Toronto.
Uber has also tweaked its testing procedures. Tests now involve two people sitting in the front seat, and Uber has also increased its monitoring of the safety drivers.
The firm has also made improvements to the vehicles’ self-driving software.
The accident is still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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