Ride-sharing service Uber is not criminally liable in a fatal collision in which one of its self-driving cars struck and killed a pedestrian, according to prosecutors.
- Prosecutors said there was “no basis for criminal liability”, but did not explain their reasoning
- The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office has referred the case for further expert analysis
- The fatal accident was a setback from which Uber has yet to recover
The vehicle hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Tempe, Arizona in March last year, prompting the company to suspend testing of its self-driving technology.
In a letter made public, the Yavapai County Attorney said there was “no basis for criminal liability” for Uber, but that the back-up driver, Rafaela Vasquez, should be referred to the Tempe police for additional investigation.
According to a police report in June, Ms Vasquez could face charges of vehicular manslaughter.
Based on a video taken inside the car, records collected from online entertainment streaming service Hulu and other evidence, police said the back-up driver was looking down and streaming an episode of the television show The Voice on a phone until about the time of the crash.
She looked up a half-second before hitting Elaine Herzberg, 49, who died from her injuries, with police labelling the incident “entirely avoidable”.
Yavapai County Attorney’s Office — which examined the case at the request of Maricopa County, where the accident occurred — did not explain the reasoning for not finding criminal liability against Uber.
Yavapai sent the case back to Maricopa, calling for further expert analysis of the video to determine what the driver should have seen that night.
An Uber spokeswoman declined to comment on the letter.
The National Transportation Safety Board and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are still investigating.
Accident a blow to self-driving industry
Prosecutors’ decision not to pursue criminal charges removes one potential headache for the ride-sharing service, as the company’s executives try to resolve a long list of federal investigations, lawsuits and other legal risks ahead of a hotly anticipated initial public offering this year.
The fatal accident was a setback from which the company has yet to recover, and its autonomous vehicle testing remains dramatically reduced.
The accident was also a blow to the entire autonomous vehicle industry and led other companies to temporarily halt their testing, with scrutiny mounting on the nascent technology, which presents fatal risks but has minimal oversight from regulators.
Industry leaders have since lamented the loss of confidence from the public, regulators and investors that lingers a year after the Uber crash, with no consensus on safety standards for the industry.
In December, Uber filed confidentially for an initial public offering and is expected to seek a valuation of up to $120 billion.
Its self-driving program, which costs hundreds of millions of dollars and does not generate revenue yet, is likely to come under scrutiny by investors.
The ride-sharing company, which last year lost about $3.3 billion, is betting on a transition to self-driving cars to eliminate the need to pay drivers.