August 1, 2023
An Uber driver who was behind the wheel during the first reported fatal collision involving a self-driving car has pleaded guilty to endangerment.
The driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was found to be on her phone at the moment of the accident and has been sentenced to three years of supervised probation.
In 2018, pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by the car, which was in self-driving mode while walking her bike in Phoenix, Arizona.
Vasquez’s lawyers argued Uber should share some of the legal ramifications, given the fact that it did not require a second employee to be in the car and that the car’s automated emergency braking system has been deactivated, increasing the risk of collision.
However, the National Transportation Safety Board ruled that Vasquez's lack of attention to the road was the main cause of the incident and the ride-sharing company was not charged.
The case was the first reported fatality from a self-driving collision, though it has certainly not been the last. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers reported 400 crashes involving automated driver-assist systems, 273 of which were Teslas.
Of the 98 self-driving crashes with injuries, 11 resulted in serious injuries. Five incidents involving Teslas were fatal.
NHTSA launched a series of probes into Tesla’s self-driving vehicles as a result of these incident statistics, with the latest one launched this July. The automaker also announced a mass recall of vehicles in March due to an identified crash risk at intersections, as well as a pause to the rollout of its Full Self-Driving software in North America.
GM Cruise also had to recall its self-driving taxis following a robotaxi crash with a bus in March in San Francisco.
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