State Watch

Back-up Uber driver charged in fatal crash of autonomous car

A woman operating a self-driving Uber vehicle that hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz., in March 2018 was charged with negligent homicide, the Maricopa County Attorney’s office announced Tuesday.

Rafaela Vasquez, now 46, pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted she faces up to eight years in prison.  

“Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community,” County Attorney Allister Adel said, announcing the indictment. “When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely and in a law-abiding manner.”

The crash is believed to be the first pedestrian death caused by self-driving technology. Following the crash, Uber suspended all of its self-driving car testing on public roads before laying off 300 of its self-driving vehicle operators in Arizona and permanently shutting down testing there.

According to a police report obtained by the Arizona Republic in 2018, Vasquez was watching the TV show “The Voice” on her phone while operating a Volvo SUV that struck and killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzber.

“The car was in auto-drive,” Vasquez said at the time. “All of a sudden … the car didn’t see it, I couldn’t see it. I know I hit her.”

Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill. 


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