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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
don t 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.

  • Ollicat I have a Spyder. The belt will last for many years or 60,000-80,000 miles. Not really a worry.
  • Redapple2 Cadillac and racing. Boy those 2 go together dont they? What a joke. Up there with opening a coffee shop in NYC. EvilGM be clowning. Again.
  • Jbltg Rear bench seat does not match the front buckets. What's up?
  • Theflyersfan The two Louisville truck plants are still operating, but not sure for how much longer. I have a couple of friends who work at a manufacturing company in town that makes cooling systems for the trucks built here. And they are on pins and needles wondering if or when they get the call to not go back to work because there are no trucks being made. That's what drives me up the wall with these strikes. The auto workers still get a minimum amount of pay even while striking, but the massive support staff that builds components, staffs temp workers, runs the logistics, etc, ends up with nothing except the bare hope that the state's crippled unemployment system can help them keep afloat. In a city where shipping (UPS central hub and they almost went on strike on August 1) and heavy manufacturing (GE Appliance Park and the Ford plants) keeps tens of thousands of people employed, plus the support companies, any prolonged shutdown is a total disaster for the city as well. UAW members - you're not getting a 38% raise right away. That just doesn't happen. Start a little lower and end this. And then you can fight the good fight against the corner office staff who make millions for being in meetings all day.
  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )