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Uber not liable in fatal self-driving crash, says US attorney

Uber will not be held accountable for a car crash from one of their autonomous vehicles that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg in the United States.

Last year in Tempe, Arizona, the first fatality linked to an autonomous vehicle took place.

On Tuesday, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk wrote “no basis for criminal liability for the Uber Corporation arising from this matter” but instead, suggested the local police investigate the conduct of the person behind the wheel who should have reacted to the incident.

The accident happened in March last year from one of Uber’s autonomous SUVs which was travelling at 40 mph when it crashed into 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg who was crossing the street with her bike. Even though the vehicle recognized that the pedestrian, the automatic braking option was previously deactivated in order to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior”, said a report from the National Transportation Safety Board.

It was the first accident of its kind and it has dramatically reduced Uber’s self-driving car tests.

The person behind the wheel, Rafaela Vasquez, was supposed to react in such a situation according to Uber, but the footage from inside the car showed that she was watching an episode of “the Voice” on her phone while the accident happened and as a result, could not react in time to prevent the crash.

Vasquez stated that she did not see Herzberg as she “came out of nowhere”. Attorney Polk gave the case back to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office to find out if Vasquez would face any charges, which according to Reuters, could potentially include vehicular manslaughter.

The police labeled the incident as “entirely avoidable”.

On Tuesday, Polk wrote: “This Office has concluded that a collision video, as it displays, likely does not accurately depict the events that occurred. We therefore recommend that the matter be furthered to the Tempe Police Department to obtain additional evidence.”

A Uber spokesperson refused to comment on Polk’s letter.

The national Transportation safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are still investigating the incident.

The victim’s family filed a lawsuit worth $10 million against the city and accused city officials of paving a section of the road to look like a crossing.

The claim states that the site of the crash “has a brick pathway cutting through the desert landscaping that is clearly designed to accommodate people to cross.”

The city had allegedly torn down the pathway and replaced it with landscaping last year in the fall.

After the accident, Uber stopped testing their autonomous vehicles in Arizona and have instead focused on a smaller program in Pittsburgh. Each car being used in the program will have two drivers inside who are expected to take over in the event of an emergency and no passengers were present in the car. In addition to this, cars are not allowed to go over 25 mph.