Uber’s self-driving operator charged over fatal crash

Uber's self-driving operator charged over fatal crash
The self-driving Volvo hit a pedestrian at 39mph, despite the presence of a safety driver. Source: Reuters
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Daily US Times: The back-up driver of a self-driving car of Uber that killed a pedestrian has been charged with negligent homicide.

The 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was hit by the car as she wheeled a bicycle across the road in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018.

Investigators said, the time when the incident took place, the car’s safety driver, Rafael Vasquez, had been streaming an episode of the television show The Voice.

Ms Vasquez pleaded not guilty, and was released to await trial.

Uber will not face criminal charges in the development, after a decision last year that there was “no basis for criminal liability” for the corporation.

The accident was the first death on record involving a self-driving car, and forced Uber to end its testing of the technology in Arizona.

Lengthy investigations by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and police found that human error was mostly to blame for the crash.

Investigators found that Ms Vasquez was in the driver’s seat, and had the ability to take over control of the vehicle in an emergency.

Police released the dash-cam footage of the car which showed Ms Vasquez looking down, away from the road, for several seconds immediately before the crash, while the car was travelling at 39mph (63km/h).

Police say that although her first name was listed on her driver’s licence as Rafael, Ms Vasquez identifies as a woman and goes by Rafaela.

Records from the streaming service Hulu also seemed to prove that her device had been streaming a television show at the time of the incident.

A police report from June 2018 said that the fatal collision as “entirely avoidable” if the driver had been watching the road.

Meanwhile, the NTSB identified the probable cause of the accident as failure of the operator to monitor their surroundings, and the automated system, “because she was visually distracted throughout the trip by her personal cell phone”.

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