Don't Expect a Landmark Court Case From the Uber Self-driving Car Death

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
dont expect a landmark court case from the uber self driving car death

It had all the hallmarks of a groundbreaking case, one that might define the hazy legal boundaries that exist at the dawn of the autonomous vehicle age. Instead, a settlement.

The death, earlier this month, of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg at the self-guided hands of an Volvo XC90 operated by Uber Technologies Inc. in a Phoenix suburb immediately sparked questions of who was at fault. The company operating the pilot project? The automaker that supplied the vehicle for conversion to autonomous drive? The suppliers of the sensors and software needed to turn the SUV into a robot? Road and light conditions? The pedestrian? Or, perhaps, the human occupant whose eyes weren’t on the road prior to impact?

Questions still swirl around why the Uber vehicle’s sensors didn’t recognize the woman crossing a darkened highway with her bicycle, but we won’t hear them answered in a courtroom.

Herzberg’s family has reportedly settled with Uber, thus preventing a drawn-out legal battle. Neither Uber nor the law firm representing Herzberg’s husband and daughter have commented on the settlement or disclosed the sum. To them, the matter is closed.

What’s not over is Uber’s self-imposed testing ban and the ongoing pile-on from suppliers, rivals, and lawmakers. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued a stern rebuke earlier this week, claiming Uber had not upheld the safety standards he expected after declaring his state wide open for autonomous testing.

Velodyne, the supplier of the lidar technology that was supposed to see objects in the dark, claims the failure is on Uber’s end, pointing to faulty software. Aptiv, which supplies Volvo with radar and cameras for production vehicles, distanced itself from the issue by claiming Uber disconnected those devices in favor of its own. Even Mobileye — a chip supplier to Activ — said the software on a stock Volvo XC90 should have been able to notice Herzberg as she crossed the road. To prove its point, the Intel subsidiary tested its products against the crash video. Sure enough, it recognized the pedestrian before the fatal impact.

While Uber was able to quickly settle the matter with the deceased’s family, it awaits findings of investigations launched by the Tempe Police Department and the National Transportation Safety Board. These probes should identify the source(s) of the failure. Meanwhile, automakers and tech companies alike wait to see what becomes of their bold new frontier in mobility.

[Source: Reuters]

Join the conversation
3 of 43 comments
  • Brn Brn on Mar 29, 2018

    Smart move. Get this out of the news, so the industry can move on. If someone who never cared enough about her mother to get her off the street, winds up with a payout, so be it. We all realize that this lawsuit had nothing to do with the woman that died, don't we?

  • AndyYS AndyYS on Mar 30, 2018

    99% sure the problem is with Uber.

    • Brn Brn on Mar 30, 2018

      Agreed. Let's not group all autonomous vehicles with these dolts.

  • Wjtinfwb Over the years I've owned 3, one LH (a Concorde) a Gen 1 300 and a Gen 2 300C "John Varvatos". The Concorde was a very nice car for the time with immense room inside and decent power from the DOHC 3.5L. But quality was awful, it spent more time in the shop than the driveway. It gave way to a Gen 1 300, OK but the V6 was underwhelming in this car compared to the Concorde but did it's job. The Gen 1's letdown was the awful interior with acres of plastic, leather that did it's best imitation of vinyl and a featureless dashboard that looked lifted from a cheaper car. My last one was a '14 300C John Varvatos with the Pentastar. Great car, sufficient power and exceptional highway mileage. The interior was much better than the original as well. It was felled by a defective instrument cluster that took over 90 days to fix and was ultimately lemon law' d back to FCA. I'd love one of the 392 powered final edition 300s but understand they're already sold out and if I had an extra 60k available, would likely choose a CPO BMW 540i for comparable money.
  • Dukeisduke Thanks Cary. Folks need to make sure they buy the correct antifreeze, since there are so many OEM-specific ones out there nowadays (Dex-Cool, Ford gold, Toyota red and pink, etc.).And sorry to hear about your family situation - my wife and I have been dealing with her 88-yo mom, moving her into independent senior living, selling her house, etc. It's a lot to deal with.
  • FreedMike Always lusted after that first-gen 300 - particularly the "Heritage Edition," which had special 300 badging and a translucent plastic steering wheel (ala the '50s and '60s "letter cars").
  • Dave M. Although the effective takeover by Daimler is pooped upon, this is one they got right. I wasn't a fan of the LHs, mostly due to reported mechanical, NVH and build quality issues, but I though Chrysler hit it out of the park with the LXs. The other hyped release that year was the Ford Five Hundred, which, while a well-built car with superior interior space, couldn't hold a candle to the 300.
  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.