Uber backup driver charged with negligent homicide in self-driving accident

Related thread from @Cathoholic

It has been more than two years since one of Uber’s autonomous SUVs struck and killed Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. Last year one group of prosecutors (from another county due to a conflict of interest in the area where the crash happened) decided they would not file criminal charges against Uber, but on Tuesday a grand jury in Maricopa County charged the vehicle’s backup driver with negligent homicide.

County attorney Allister Adel said in a statement that “Distracted driving is an issue of great importance,” as a report by police and investigation by the NTSB said Rafaela Vasquez was streaming The Voice on Hulu while sitting behind the wheel of the vehicle. Vasquez pled not guilty.

The car’s software detected Herzberg more than five seconds before the crash but did not identify her as a pedestrian with a bike crossing the street away from a crosswalk. However the NTSB report went into depth saying that while the backup driver could have avoided the crash if they had been paying attention, it was “the last link in a long chain of actions and decisions made by an organization that unfortunately did not make safety the top priority.” That included Uber deactivating the Volvo SUV’s built-in automatic emergency braking system, which put all pressure on the backup driver to intervene in a situation where the self-driving rig failed.

@gam197 - related to a recent comment, it takes years of attention to see how a case ends.

The video was chilling. I certainly feel the back up driver was negligent. It doesn’t make me feel safer that these vehicles are on the road. Granted, I don’t think the woman was crossing at a crosswalk, but if the driver had not been watching his phone, the accident might have been prevented.

The Phoenix metro area has a high rate of auto/pedestrian fatality accidents.

I can see why Uber are pursuing them, but self-driving cars are such a bad idea. I wish they would just give up on them.

I’m pretty sure the motivation is to have possession of a means of production that isn’t dependent on worker. Workers are expensive. There are regulations to be followed, such as paying for health care.

I’m not confident this is safely achievable so long as there are uncontrolled factors (such as other human beings on the road) but I understand why they want to be able to automate the service.

From what I recall, she was watching something like “dancing with the stars” on hulu.

She wasn’t. I have mixed feelings about what I saw. From the camera perspective it looked dark with little or no street illumination and she wasn’t visible until moments before the collision. But sometimes in driven moments are all that are given to make a life-or-death decision.

I’ve had a lot of close calls myself on a specific 6 lane road where people tend to cross at random places while wearing dark clothing. When it is raining, people die and no criminal charges are filed.

Yes, I lived recently about 10 minutes from where the accident happened.

I had several close calls also in Phoenix on dimly lit streets where pedestrians were walking and wearing dark clothing and crossing mid street. In the 18 months I lived there, many times there were pedestrian fatalities weekly. Twice, they were accidents with a grandparent walking with their grandchild. Very sad.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.