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article imageOfficial: Uber unlikely at fault in deadly self-driving car crash

By Ken Hanly     Mar 20, 2018 in Technology
Tempe - Sylvia Moir, the police chief of Tempe Arizona told the San Francisco Chronicle that it was unlikely that Uber was at fault in a deadly accident involving a self-driving car that killed a woman on Sunday evening in the city.
The interview with Moir can be found here. Her comments created somewhat of a stir. This appears to be the first case where a person has been killed by a self-driving car. However, in July of 2016, a driver of a Tesla vehicle on auto-pilot was killed when the vehicle ran into a truck.
The Uber car had a backup driver and was not one of the fully autonomous cars that have no safety driver which are also being tested in Arizona and California. Moir said in the interview: “I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident. I won’t rule out the potential to file charges against the [backup driver] in the Uber vehicle.”
The accident described
The crash happened near Mill Avenue and Curry Road in Tempe. The Uber car was northbound when 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was struck while pushing a bicycle across the street. She was taken to the hospital where she died later from injuries sustained in the crash.
The vehicle was traveling 38 mph in an area where police said the speed limit was 35 but a Google Street View of the road last July shows the speed limit in that stretch at 45 mph.
There is no crosswalk where the accident happened and the victim came off the median out of shadows.
Moir remarked on the fact that Herzberg crossed the street where there was no crosswalk: “It is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available.”
There is also a sign warning pedestrians not to use an inviting brick-paved walking path across the median. A tweet notes that if the woman had walked a further 100 yards there was a pedestrian corridor.
Rafaela Vasquez the 44 year old backup driver gave a statement to police.
Safety driver had little time to react
The police viewed footage from two of the vehicles cameras. One camera faced toward the street, and the other inside the car faced toward the driver. Based on what the police saw Moir judged that Vasquez had little time to react: “The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them. His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision.”
Moir's conclusion
Moir summed up her observations: “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode [autonomous or human-driven] based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”
Moir's comments bring negative reactions
Advocates for safe streets describe Moir's comments as tone deaf, inappropriate and possibly misinformed. The Tempe Polic Department has since issued a statement that says that the department does not determine fault in vehicle accidents.
Friends of the family also demanded that Uber be held accountable and even said that Uber should be shut down.
The executive order by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in March stipulates that if one of its self-driving cars negligently kills a person then the corporation that operates the vehicle is liable. The company would be criminally liable just like a person.
More about autonomous cars, Uber, Tempe arizona
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