Uber not criminally liable in fatal 2018
Arizona self-driving crash: prosecutors
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[March 06, 2019]
By David Shepardson and Heather Somerville
(Reuters) - Uber Technologies Inc is not
criminally liable in a March 2018 crash in Tempe, Arizona, in which one
of the company's self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian,
prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The Yavapai County Attorney said in a letter made public that there was
"no basis for criminal liability" for Uber, but that the back-up driver,
Rafaela Vasquez, should be referred to the Tempe police for additional
Prosecutors' decision not to pursue criminal charges removes one
potential headache for the ride-hailing company as the company's
executives try to resolve a long list of federal investigations,
lawsuits and other legal risks ahead of a hotly anticipated initial
public offering this year.
The crash involved a Volvo XC90 sport utility vehicle that Uber was
using to test self-driving technology. The fatal accident was a setback
from which the company has yet to recover; its autonomous vehicle
testing remains dramatically reduced.
The accident was also a blow to the entire autonomous vehicle industry
and led other companies to temporarily halt their testing. Scrutiny has
mounted on the nascent technology, which presents fatal risks but has
minimal oversight from regulators.
Vasquez, the Uber back-up driver, could face charges of vehicular
manslaughter, according to a police report in June. Vasquez has not
previously commented and could not immediately be reached on Tuesday.
Based on a video taken inside the car, records collected from online
entertainment streaming service Hulu and other evidence, police said
last year that Vasquez was looking down and streaming an episode of the
television show "The Voice" on a phone until about the time of the
crash. The driver looked up a half-second before hitting Elaine
Herzberg, 49, who died from her injuries.
Police called the incident "entirely avoidable."
Yavapai County Attorney's Office, which examined the case at the request
of Maricopa County where the accident occurred, did not explain the
reasoning for not finding criminal liability against Uber. Yavapai sent
the case back to Maricopa, calling for further expert analysis of the
video to determine what the driver should have seen that night.
An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.
[to top of second column]
Traffic passes an intersection just north of the location where a
woman pedestrian was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving sport
utility vehicle in Tempe, Arizona, U.S., March 19, 2018.
REUTERS/Rick Scuteri/File Photo
The National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration are still investigating.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office did not immediately comment on
Uber in December filed confidentially for an initial public offering
and is expected to seek a valuation of up to $120 billion. Its
self-driving program, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars
and does not generate revenue yet, is likely to come under scrutiny
The ride-hailing company, which last year lost about $3.3 billion,
is betting on a transition to self-driving cars to eliminate the
need to pay drivers.
At an autonomous vehicles conference in Silicon Valley last week,
industry leaders lamented the loss of confidence from the public,
regulators and investors that lingers a year after the Uber crash.
There is no consensus on safety standards for the industry.
In March 2018, authorities in Arizona suspended Uberís ability to
test its self-driving cars. Uber also voluntarily halted its entire
autonomous car testing program and left Arizona.
In December, Uber resumed limited self-driving car testing in
Pittsburgh, restricting the cars to a small loop they can drive only
in good weather. The company is now testing with two people in the
front seat and more strictly monitors safety drivers. The company
also said last year it made improvements to the vehiclesí
Uber has not resumed testing in San Francisco or Toronto, where it
previously had programs.
(Reporting by David Shepardson. Additional reporting by Heather
Somerville in San Francisco and David Schwartz in Phoenix; Editing
by Grant McCool and Cynthia Osterman)
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