An Uber test driver has been charged with negligent homicide after the self-driving vehicle she was supposed to be monitoring struck and killed a pedestrian. The 2018 incident was the first recorded fatally involving a fully autonomous vehicle. An NTSB investigation revealed that Uber's system was unable to identify and predict the path of a pedestrian who was not using a crosswalk.
The report also faulted the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, and concluded that she was responsible for hitting Elaine Herzberg as she crossed the street with her bike in Tempe, Arizona. Vasquez was watching television on her phone and was not paying attention to the road at the time of the accident.
"Had the vehicle operator been attentive, she would likely have had sufficient time to detect and react to the crossing pedestrian to avoid the crash or mitigate the impact," the federal report stated. "The vehicle operator's prolonged visual distraction, a typical effect of automation complacency, led to her failure to detect the pedestrian in time to avoid the collision."
The report also cited Uber's inadequate safety culture, but the company was cleared of liability in the accident. Ed Walters, who teaches a class on autonomous vehicles at Georgetown Law, told CNN that Uber was lucky to avoid liability because Vasquez was distracted behind the wheel.
"The fact she was watching TV makes her an easy and maybe convenient person to accept responsibility," Walters said. "Remove that fact, and it could easily be Uber."
Vasquez pleaded not guilty to the charge and was fitted with an ankle monitor before she was released.
Uber settled a civil suit with the victim's family two weeks after the crash.
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