Uber self-driving car kills Arizona pedestrian

Occurred: March 2018

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In March 2018, Rafaela Vasquez, the test driver of an Uber autonomous car, crashed into a woman walking her bicycle across a road in Tempe, Arizona. Operating in self-drive mode with Vasquez in the driving seat, the Uber fatally struck Elaine Herzberg. The incident was the first known case of a fatality involving a self-driving car.

Uber escaped (pdf) prosecution, but Vasquez was indicted by prosecutors in Arizona in August 2020 on a count of negligent homicide on the basis that she was checking Slack messages from Uber on her work mobile phone and watching a reality show on her personal phone. In July 2023, Vazquez pleaded guilty to one count of endangerment and was sentenced to three years of supervised probation, with no time in prison.

The case was seen as a test of with which party legal liability lies. A US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation concluded the Uber car had failed to identify Herzberg as a pedestrian and to apply its brakes. It also found that Uber maintained an 'inadequate safety culture.'

Uber suspended its self-driving test programme following the incident, later restarting it in Pittsburgh.

Operator: Uber
Developer: Uber
Country: USA
Sector: Automotive
Purpose: Automate steering, acceleration, braking
Technology: Self-driving system
Issue: Safety; Accuracy/reliability; Liability
Transparency: Black box


Legal, regulatory

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Page info
Type: Incident
Published: March 2022