Conviction of AV Safety Driver Doesn’t let Uber Off the Hook

Uber will hope the conviction of its safety driver for the fatal 2018 accident in Phoenix, Arizona, that led to it scrapping autonomous driving plans, will draw a line under the incident.

However, the conviction of Rafaela Vasquez, who pleaded guilty to reduced charge of endangerment and was sentenced to three years of supervised probation, will be seen as merely a side issue to the company’s negligence in disabling ADAS features on the Volvo XC90 it was using. Elaine Herzberg died after she was struck while walking a bicycle across a street at night. The first recorded death involving a self-driving vehicle prompted significant safety concerns about the nascent autonomous vehicle industry, Reuters reports.

However, if the company had not tampered with the Volvo’s standard fitted ADAS software, the modified Volvo XC90 could have identified Herzberg as a pedestrian and activate its automatic emergency braking system. In doing this Uber did not address “operators’ automation complacency”, said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2019.

Uber made a series of development decisions that contributed to the crash’s cause, the NTSB said. In 2020, Uber announced the sale of its autonomous driving unit to self-driving car start-up Aurora for $4Bn.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_  and Threads

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