Uber Safety Driver Charged With Negligent Homicide in Arizona Test Incident

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
uber safety driver charged with negligent homicide in arizona test incident

The Uber test vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, has been under public scrutiny since March of 2018. But we never heard a lot about the safety driver behind the wheel. So much attention was given to addressing whether or not the autonomous systems on the SUV should or could have seen Elaine Herzberg — and stopped the car before the tragedy occurred — that it became the overriding narrative.

But it really shouldn’t have, as some of the earliest video footage appeared to show that Uber’s safety operator had entirely tuned out of the driving experience in the moments leading up to the incident. Fortunately, Maricopa County Superior Court and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were keeping tabs while the rest of us were not. In fact, the former decided to charge Rafael Vasquez (who also goes by Rafaela) with negligent homicide late last month.

Vasquez pled not guilty during an initial court appearance on Tuesday and was released with the trial scheduled for February of 2021. According to Reuters, the court stipulated that Vasquez would need to wear an ankle monitor until things were settled. Unfortunately, the long term prognosis is not good.

While the NTSB was highly critical of Uber’s safety systems and testing routine, Vasquez probably received the harshest review following its extensive investigation into the incident. In November, the board announced the driver’s failure to act was ultimately what caused the entire incident “because she was visually distracted throughout the trip by her personal cell phone.”

A Tempe police report likewise stated that Vasquez was repeatedly looking down instead of maintaining focus on the road ahead, which became Uber’s out from having to accept any liabilities. Local investigations previously suggested that the crash was “entirely avoidable” and noted that Vasquez was streaming “The Voice” TV program at the time of the crash.

“Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community,” said Maricopa County Attorney Allister Adel. “When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely.”

[Images: Uber]

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  • Mathias Mathias on Sep 16, 2020

    This is why I have zero appetite for all the nannies in my car. Make mine fully autonomous please, I'll sit in the back and read a book. Until then, I'll do the driving, watch my mirrors, and generally not hit things. If I had all that the 'autopilot' stuff to rely on, I'm afraid I might tune out eventually. I like: automatic headlights -- but I get in trouble when my 'other' car doesn't have them; backup cameras in large cars -- but I still turn my head to see what ELSE is going on; cruise control -- always; adaptive cruise -- never had it, would probably like it. All the other stuff, automatic braking, wiggling my steering wheel because the car 'thinks' i'm wandering etc. is just a pain. As is the beeping when I get close to an obstacle, or when I fail to put on my seat belt at walking speed.

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Sep 17, 2020

    Not mentioned here but brought up shortly after the incident, and repeated in mainstream reporting today, Uber had disabled Volvo's safety nannies, and was relying on its own obviously hokum hardware/software. The Volvo had standard pedestrian detection, but it was disabled. Exit one pedestrian, jaywalker or not, it doesn't matter. Add to that hours of tedious behind the wheel "monitoring" for Rafael when the software sort of performed properly as it repeatedly wandered around a set course, leading to the same sort of relaxation that seems to have offed more than one Tesla driver, and it all went horribly wrong. Was Rafael really seriously "trained"? You gotta ask, why were these half-arsed autonomous crapmobiles allowed to prowl public roads in the first place? Who oversold who on the merits of that approach? There's your guilty party. All these autonomy wackos should be forced to build a test facility together, and then let's have the two dozen or more different systems run around continuously on a fake cityscape and try to not hit each other, without V2V systems, to see whose autonomous system actually sort of kind of works. Stick in a few feeding spots and some trees and blindspots and faded white and yellow lines and random broken traffic lights, then add a herd of deer looking for those elusive buckets of apples cunningly placed somewhere different each day. That'll sort the halfway decent autonomy systems out from one another. Judging by the AAA and other reports I've read on the crappiness of autonomous systems and nannies and the behavior of the nannies of my own car, it kind of seems to me that prosecuting a minimum wage worker is just the easy way out for officialdom to wipe its hands clean of the whole affair by offloading blame.

  • ToolGuy CXXVIII comments?!?
  • ToolGuy I did truck things with my truck this past week, twenty-odd miles from home (farther than usual). Recall that the interior bed space of my (modified) truck is 98" x 74". On the ride home yesterday the bed carried a 20 foot extension ladder (10 feet long, flagged 14 inches past the rear bumper), two other ladders, a smallish air compressor, a largish shop vac, three large bins, some materials, some scrap, and a slew of tool cases/bags. It was pretty full, is what I'm saying.The range of the Cybertruck would have been just fine. Nothing I carried had any substantial weight to it, in truck terms. The frunk would have been extremely useful (lock the tool cases there, out of the way of the Bed Stuff, away from prying eyes and grasping fingers -- you say I can charge my cordless tools there? bonus). Stainless steel plus no paint is a plus.Apparently the Cybertruck bed will be 78" long (but over 96" with the tailgate folded down) and 60-65" wide. And then Tesla promises "100 cubic feet of exterior, lockable storage — including the under-bed, frunk and sail pillars." Underbed storage requires the bed to be clear of other stuff, but bottom line everything would have fit, especially when we consider the second row of seats (tools and some materials out of the weather).Some days I was hauling mostly air on one leg of the trip. There were several store runs involved, some for 8-foot stock. One day I bummed a ride in a Roush Mustang. Three separate times other drivers tried to run into my truck (stainless steel panels, yes please). The fuel savings would be large enough for me to notice and to care.TL;DR: This truck would work for me, as a truck. Sample size = 1.
  • Art Vandelay Dodge should bring this back. They could sell it as the classic classic classic model
  • Surferjoe Still have a 2013 RDX, naturally aspirated V6, just can't get behind a 4 banger turbo.Also gloriously absent, ESS, lane departure warnings, etc.
  • ToolGuy Is it a genuine Top Hand? Oh, I forgot, I don't care. 🙂