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Negligent Homicide for Uber Self-Driving Vehicle Controller

Posted by Jeremy Rosenthal | Sep 30, 2020 | 0 Comments

Self-driving vehicles may be the way of the future but they still have a long way to go. Last year, we wrote about the tragic 2018 fatal accident involving an Uber self-driving test vehicle in Arizona. The backup driver, whose job it was to take control of the car in case of an emergency, has been charged with negligent homicide for her role in the fatal accident. 

Lyft Self-Driving Tests

In March 2018, Rafaela Vasquez was working as a backup driver in an Uber self-driving vehicle driving around the streets of Tempe. Elaine Herzberg was crossing the street with her bicycle, in the path of the Uber test vehicle. The self-driving technology failed to stop for the pedestrian, hitting and killing the woman. 

According to Uber, the software detected Herzberg but failed to identify her as a pedestrian. The software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object about 6 seconds before the crash, then classifying the pedestrian as a vehicle, then a bicycle. Uber had also disengaged the emergency braking ability of the vehicle. The vehicle could only stop for stop signs and traffic lights. Only the safety driver could apply the brakes in an emergency.

Vasquez was supposed to be watching the road and be ready to take the wheel and hit the brakes in the event of an emergency. Instead, Vasquez was watching an episode of “The Voice” on her phone. When Vasquez hit the brakes, it was too late. 

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found the crash was primarily attributed to human error. However, the investigation also found Uber suffered from an “inadequate safety culture.” Prosecutors said Uber would not be charged but continued their case against the safety driver. 

Vasquez was arraigned in the Maricopa County Superior Court on charges of negligent homicide. Under Arizona law, a person commits negligent homicide if the person causes the death of another with criminal negligence. Vasquez pleaded not guilty to the charges. 

Distracted Driving and Autonomous Vehicles

Full automation, classified as Level 5 levels of autonomous vehicle technology, is supposed to be capable of performing all driving functions under all conditions. This level of automation is still a few years away but many vehicles are equipped with some level of automation, including automatic brakes, accident avoidance, and Tesla's autopilot function. Even with these levels of automation, drivers need to keep their attention on the road. Distracted driving takes the driver's attention off the road putting other drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists at risk of injury. 

Distracted rideshare drivers have caused accidents when focusing attention on the rideshare app, mapping apps, or messaging apps while driving. Drivers often underestimate the amount of time they can look down at their phones while taking their eyes off the road. In the Arizona self-driving Uber accident, dash-camera footage showed Vasquez looking down for several seconds before the accident, while the vehicle was traveling almost 40 miles per hour. 

Injury Accident Caused by Distracted Driver

If you have any questions about an accident caused by a distracted driver, consult with an experienced Denver auto accident lawyer. Please do not hesitate to contact today at 303-642-8888 for a free consultation. We are here waiting for you.

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenthal

Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal is dedicated to helping his clients seek just compensation for their injuries regardless of the lengths he has to go to or the distances he may have to travel in order to get it.


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