Uber Safety Driver Charged With Homicide Over Fatal Crash

Backup safety driver involved in autonomous driving test in Arizona that killed a pedestrian is charged with negligent homicide

An Uber backup safety driver has been charged with negligent homicide, after an Uber self-driving car hit and killed a pedestrian.

The fatal accident took place in March 2018, when 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, a 2017 Volvo XC90.

Just before the crash, Herzberg had been walking with a bicycle across a poorly lit stretch of a multi-lane road at night.

Fatal accident

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.

But the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in November 2019 ruled the Uber self-driving car that killed Herzberg was not programmed to handle jaywalkers and had safety flaws.

The NTSB investigators found that Uber had disabled a Volvo auto-braking system that could have reduced the speed of the car, and that the in car systems systems had actually spotted Herzberg (in the darkness) approximately 5.6 seconds before the collision.

Unfortunately, it classified her as a number of different objects, and failed to realise an impact was imminent.

Despite that, in March 2019 local prosecutors ruled that Uber was not criminally liable for the death of Herzberg.

Negligent homicide

But the car’s back-up safety driver Rafaela Vasquez was always at risk of facing criminal charges, as video from the cabin showed Vasquez taking her eyes off the road moments before the accident.

Indeed, Vasquez 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 Herzberg, and police called the incident “entirely avoidable”.

Now Reuters has reported that Vasquez has been charged with negligent homicide.

Vasquez, age 46, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday after being charged in the death of Elaine Herzberg, court records show.

She was released pending trial set for February 2021.

Uber reportedly declined comment.

A lawyer for Vasquez did not immediately respond to a request by Reuters to comment.