(Reuters) – The driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber Technologies Inc. test vehicle that hit and killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, 2018, was charged with negligent homicide, prosecutor said on Tuesday
Rafael Vasquez, 46 , also known as Rafaela, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday after being charged with Elaine Herzberg's death on August 27. She was released pending trial in February 2021.
Ms. Herzberg died after being beaten while riding a bicycle across a street at night. The first recorded death with a self-driving vehicle caused significant safety problems with the emerging autonomous vehicle industry.
Uber declined comment. Mrs Vasquez's lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Tempe police report states that Mrs. Vasquez repeatedly looked down instead of keeping her eyes on the road. Prosecutors in March 201
"Distracted driving is a major issue in our society," said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. "When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and use that vehicle safely."
Police previously said the crash was "completely avoidable" and that Mrs. Vasquez was streaming "The Voice" TV at the time of the crash.
In November, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) erred on Vasquez's inaction and Uber for insufficient attention to safety and decisions in the company's autonomous vehicle development.
The NTSB stated that the probable cause was Mrs Vasquez's failure to monitor the driver's environment "because she was visually distracted throughout her journey by her personal mobile phone." She would act in an emergency. Uber made a series of development decisions that contributed to the cause of the crash, NTSB said. The software in the modified Volvo XC90 did not correctly identify Herzberg as a pedestrian and did not address "operators' sense of automation."
Uber deactivated the automatic emergency braking systems in the Volvo XC90 vehicle and excludes the use of immediate emergency braking but instead relies on the spare driver.