Rafaela Vasquez, who was working with an autonomous car, has pleaded guilty for a fatal crash that killed Elaine Herzberg. The woman was charged with negligent homicide, and will be under supervised probation.
According to her attorneys, on March 18, 2018, Vasquez was on her self-driving Uber car streaming The Voice while she was viewing a messaging app used by Uber employees – the woman claimed she didn’t see Herzberg on the dark street.
Defense Attorney Albert Morrison told the presiding judge David Garbarino that Uber could be partially blamed for the incident. He argues that Uber had failed to prevent the accident by not putting a second employee.
Autonomous Driving System
The prosecutors argued it wasn’t necessary to charge the company as Vasquez’s job was to keep her eyes on the road. However, the National Transportation Safety Board agrees that Uber is to be partially blamed for two main reasons.
The board stated that the company failed to provide measures for self-driving vehicles, and that Arizona’s Department of Transportation failed to catch the possible oversight of these types of vehicles. They added that Herzberg chose to cross the street rather than the crosswalk.
In addition, Uber chose to deactivate their emergency brakes, opting to rely on backup drivers instead. The board reviewed the vehicle and found it had detected Herzberg – but its system failed to realize she was heading to the vehicle’s path and identifying her as a bicyclist.
The news of Herzberg’s death caused Gov. Doug Ducey to disallow the company from testing their self-driving cars, while Uber pulled away all their autonomous cars in the state. Other companies who were working on their own self-driving vehicles halted their progress.
According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, a total of 158 deaths have been attributed to automated driving systems since August 2022.
Source: abc News