Two years after striking a pedestrian with one of Uber’s self-driving cars, a backup safety driver has been charged with negligent homicide. Rafaela Vasquez was watching an episode of The Voice while behind the wheel at the time of the crash. She has pleaded not guilty.
The accident, which occurred on March 18, 2018, resulted in the death of Elaine Herzberg. It is also believed to be the first fatal collision involving a self-driving car. According to detectives, the Uber car saw Herzberg but did not stop. By the time Vasquez had put his foot on the break, it was too late to prevent tragedy from happening.
Since the incident, questions have been raised as to who should be held responsible for when something goes wrong with the new technology. An Arizona prosecutor’s office ruled in March 2019 that Uber would not face any charges regarding the crash.
Although the company was able to escape criminal charges, a review by the National Transportation Safety Board in late 2019 pinpointed several numbers of safety issues at Uber. It stated that it had “inadequate safety risk assessment procedures,” “ineffective” observation of backup drivers, and a failure to address the “automation complacency” of its safety drivers, who should have been able to step in at any moment to fix the issues.
That same review suggested that Herzberg could have crossed the roadway outside of the crosswalk.
Immediately following the crash, Uber temporarily stopped its self-driving tests. When the tests were resumed in 2019 in Pittsburg, the company did so with much stricter policies, including two additional safety drivers in each vehicle. The tests have also been expanded to more cities, such as Dallas and San Francisco.