Police chief: Uber self-driving car may not be at fault in fatal Arizona crash

March 21, 2018

The Uber test car involved in a fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona, may not be at fault, the city's police chief said Tuesday. Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir chief instead suggested that the impact between a pedestrian and a Volvo XC90 equipped with self-driving technology couldn't have been avoided, even by the human backup driver inside the vehicle.

“I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident,” Moir told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding, “I won’t rule out the potential to file charges against the [backup driver] in the Uber vehicle.”

MORE: Feds descend on Tempe to investigate fatal self-driving car crash

While pushing a bicycle across a street, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was killed when the Uber Volvo XC test vehicle struck her.

Police in Tempe have viewed footage from two of the vehicle’s cameras, one facing forward toward the street and the other inside the car facing the driver. Based on the footage, Moir suggested that the driver had little time to react.

“The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them,” she said. “His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision.”

Moir added, “It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode [autonomous or human-driven] based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway.”

Moir’s comments may contradict Arizona’s recently updated rules governing the testing of autonomous vehicles on public roads. The executive order, issued by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in March, stipulates that a company is liable if one of its self-driving vehicles negligently kills a person. The corporation that operates the vehicles would be responsible, the governor’s office says, and the company could be held criminally liable just like a person.

Tempe police are collaborating with the NHTSA and the NTSB in the investigation. The Maricopa County attorney will be responsible for filing any charges at the conclusion of the police department investigation.

-- by Ruben Porras.

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