Remember the fatal 2018 crash in Arizona?
Everything changed for Uber back in May 2018. If you don't recall, that was when a Volvo XC90 modified with Uber self-driving technology struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. The 49-year-old victim, Elaine Herzberg, was rushed to the hospital but died of her injuries soon after. Herzberg was walking her bicycle across the street at night outside of a crosswalk zone, and the vehicle failed to stop in time. There was also a human safety driver, an Uber employee, at the wheel. And now that individual has just been charged with negligent homicide, according to Reuters.
Rafael Vasquez, 46, has pleaded not guilty to the charge and has been released until her trial gets underway this coming February.
But why is Vasquez being charged? After all, wasn't it Uber's self-driving tech that failed? Not exactly. As we learned a while back, Vasquez was not keeping her eyes on the road as company procedure called for. Instead was watching Netflix (specifically, "The Voice") on her smartphone. Uber has cameras in all of its test vehicles monitoring what's happening both inside and outside of the car and was thus able to provide that information to investigators.
About a year after the accident, prosecutors announced that Uber was not criminally liable for the crash. Its safety procedures were found to be solid, including having the backup human driver.
Self-driving technology has not yet been perfected so having someone at the wheel was vital. This leaves Vasquez as the sole individual responsible for what happened.
"Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community," said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. "When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely."
Investigators have ultimately concluded the crash was 100 percent avoidable if only Vasquez had been paying attention. If so, she would have had sufficient time to hit the brakes and avoid colliding with Herzberg.