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Uber driver charged for 'negligent homicide' after self-driving car failed to stop for pedestrian

The Independent logo The Independent 5 days ago Adam Smith
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A driver who was behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber, which hit and killed a pedestrian in 2018, has been charged with negligent homicide.

The autonomous car was being used as part of a trial by Uber.

“The vehicle was travelling northbound ... when a female walking outside of the crosswalk crossed the road from west to east when she was struck by the Uber vehicle,” Tempe police said in a statement

The driver was behind the wheel, but was not in control of the vehicle at time of the crash.

The Uber test vehicle was not programmed to recognise people crossing the road, and therefore did not properly identify the pedestrian. 

Rafaela Vasquez, who worked for Uber at the time of the crash, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, according to the New York Times

Investigators have said that Vasquez was watching a video of The Voice on her phone at the time.

“Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community,” the Maricopa County attorney, Allister Adel, said in a prepared statement.

“When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely and in a law-abiding manner.”

There was “no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation”, a court found in 2019.

“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”, a National Transportation Safety Board review said. 

It concluded that it was the failure of the vehicle operator to monitor the environment which was the probable cause of the crash.

However, Uber “did not adequately manage the anticipated safety risk of its automated driving system’s functional limitations, including the system’s inability in this crash to correctly classify and predict the path of the pedestrian crossing the road midblock”.

“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”, it also said.

The review also criticised “insufficient oversight” from Arizona’s Department of Transportation of automated vehicle testing.

The Independent has reached out to Uber for comment.

Rafaela Vasquez’s attorney was not immediately available for comment. 

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