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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • 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.

  • Kars This article was about Ford not Tesla - you are clearly confused.
  • Ollicat Those are individual charging stations vs entire gas stations that have 8 - 16 pumps. And gas stations take 3 minutes to fill vs 30 min to hours for a charging station. And gas pumps are much more likely to be working vs charging statins. Nice try with more propaganda though.
  • Richard Poore Sure, as the article itself notes (hence my ire) California has mandated that all new vehicles sold in state be EV by 2035. They require EV or hybrid by 2026. Since the author admits to this mandate it seems that the article title is clickbait... was really hoping that there was some sort of changes in the CA position since the state is sorely behind on where they need to be with charging stations for this sort of requirement.
  • VoGhost When will Audi eliminate the fake, oversized grills that impede aerodynamics?