Almost a year after the fatal accident, Yavapai County Attorney prosecutor, Sheila Sullivan, stated in a letter to the Maricopa County Attorney, Bill Montgomery, that “there is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation arising from this matter.”
Sullivan and the Yavapai County’s office were temporarily in charge of the case due to a potential conflict of interest between the company and Maricopa County Attorney’s office. However, with this conclusion, the case passes once again to Maricopa.
The accident in question took place when a Volvo XC90, operating in autonomous mode as part of an Uber’s test fleet, hit and killed Elaine Herzberg, as she crossed a street with her bicycle at night. The person sitting in the driver’s seat as an Uber safety driver, Rafaela Vasquez, failed to take control and stop the vehicle before the impact.
For this reason, the prosecutor recommends that “an expert analysis of the video is needed,” whose purpose “is to closely match what (and when) the person sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle would or should have seen that night given the vehicle’s speed, lighting conditions, and other relevant factors.” With this evidence, Vasquez could be criminally charged with vehicular manslaughter, according to a police report filed in June 2018.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and National Highway Traffic Safety (Nhtsa) Administration are still investigating the case, which means that Uber could still face criminal charges. A preliminary NTSB report mentions that the company disabled one of the car’s emergency braking features, but it also states that the self-driving system seemed to be operating normally.
After the aforementioned crash, authorities in Arizona suspended Uber’s permit to test its self-driving cars. The company voluntarily halted its entire autonomous car testing program and left the state. In December 2018, months after the accident, the program restarted in Pennsylvania.
Since 2013, when self-driving cars hit the roads, four people have been killed, Herzberg by Uber and three other by Tesla’s program in the U.S. and China.