Rafaela Vasquez, the safety operator of an Uber self-driving car prototype involved in a deadly accident in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018, admitted guilt last week to a charge of endangerment. The court accepted her plea and sentenced her to three years of probation under supervision, as reported by Fox 10.
Brief Overview of Volvo XC90
Vasquez was at the helm of a Volvo XC90, outfitted with Uber’s autonomous driving technology, when the vehicle collided with Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street outside a crosswalk with a bicycle. Herzberg was rushed to the hospital but subsequently succumbed to her injuries.
Fox 10 reported that prosecutors did not pursue more severe criminal charges after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that Vasquez’s negligence in road monitoring was the primary cause of the crash.
According to the post-accident investigation by the police, Vasquez had been streaming the TV show “The Voice” on her phone for approximately 42 minutes, which ended one minute after the fatal collision. A video also captured her looking down just moments before the accident.
Her defense attorneys claimed that Vasquez was checking a messaging system used by Uber staff on a company-issued phone placed on her knee while her personal phone, which was streaming “The Voice,” was on the front passenger seat.
An initial report by the NTSB revealed that Uber’s lidar and radar detected Herzberg 5.6 seconds before the impact. With 1.3 seconds to impact, the system recognized the need for evasive action. One second prior to the collision, Vasquez regained control of the steering wheel, but she only applied the brakes after the collision had occurred.
Uber suggested that its autonomous driving system could have been configured to consider the pedestrian a “false positive,” which would imply the system decided no action was needed to avoid the collision.
Volvo wasn’t implicated in any investigation because Uber had deactivated the XC90’s original automatic emergency braking system.
After the incident, Uber ceased its efforts to develop autonomous driving technology and sold its Uber Advanced Technology Group, the division responsible for this development, to competitor Aurora in 2020. Instead, Uber will leverage self-driving technology from other firms for its future robotaxi fleet. In 2022, Uber announced the addition of a robotaxi from Hyundai-backed firm Motional to its Las Vegas fleet.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Autonomous car crash
What was the role of Rafaela Vasquez in the Uber self-driving fatal crash case?
Rafaela Vasquez was the safety driver behind the wheel of the Uber robotaxi prototype that hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in 2018. She was responsible for monitoring the vehicle’s operations during the autonomous driving test.
What charge did Rafaela Vasquez plead guilty to?
Rafaela Vasquez pleaded guilty to the charge of endangerment in connection with the fatal crash.
What was the sentencing given to Rafaela Vasquez?
The judge sentenced Rafaela Vasquez to three years of supervised probation.
What did the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determine as the main cause of the crash?
The NTSB determined that the main cause of the crash was Vasquez’s failure to monitor the road while she was the safety driver.
What vehicle was involved in the accident, and what autonomous technology did it have?
The vehicle involved in the accident was a Volvo XC90 equipped with Uber’s own self-driving system.
What was the situation leading up to the crash?
The accident occurred when the vehicle struck Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the road outside of a crosswalk while pushing a bicycle.
What was the evidence against Rafaela Vasquez?
The police investigation revealed that Vasquez had been streaming the TV show “The Voice” on her phone for about 42 minutes, ending one minute after the crash. Video evidence also showed her looking down moments before the collision.
What explanation did Vasquez’s attorneys provide for her actions?
Vasquez’s attorneys claimed that their client was looking at a messaging system used by Uber employees on a work phone placed on her knee. Her personal phone, which was streaming “The Voice,” was on the front passenger seat.
Did Uber’s self-driving system detect the pedestrian before the collision?
Yes, according to a preliminary report by the NTSB, Uber’s lidar and radar system spotted Elaine Herzberg 5.6 seconds before impact.
Why weren’t more serious criminal charges filed against Vasquez?
Prosecutors did not file more serious charges because the NTSB determined that the main cause of the crash was Vasquez’s failure to monitor the road, rather than a deliberate criminal act.
What did Uber suggest regarding the self-driving system’s response?
Uber suggested that its self-driving system may have been calibrated in a way that considered the pedestrian a “false positive,” leading the system to decide no action was required to avoid the collision.
How did the incident impact Uber’s self-driving technology development?
After the incident, Uber gave up its efforts to develop a self-driving system and sold its division responsible for this technology, the Uber Advanced Technology Group, to Aurora, a rival self-driving technology company.
What is Uber’s plan for its future robotaxi fleet?
Uber decided to rely on self-driving systems from other companies for its future robotaxi fleet. In 2022, Uber announced the addition of a robotaxi from Hyundai-backed firm Motional to its Las Vegas fleet.
More about Autonomous car crash
- Fox 10 Phoenix (Source of the news article)
- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) (The organization involved in the investigation)
- Volvo XC90 (Overview of the vehicle involved in the crash)
- Aurora (Company that acquired Uber’s Advanced Technology Group responsible for self-driving technology)
- Motional (Hyundai-backed self-driving technology company)