WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Back-up security driver behind the wheel of self-driving Uber Technologies UBER.N Prosecutors said Tuesday that a woman was struck and killed in the test vehicle, Tempe, Arizona, in 2018.
Rafael Vasquez, age 46, also known as Rafaella, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday, August 27 to the death of Ellen Herzberg, court records show. He was issued a pending trial set for February 2021.
Hurtberg died while cycling across a street at night. The first recorded death involving a self-driving vehicle prompted significant safety concerns about the nascent autonomous vehicle industry.
Uber declined to comment. A lawyer for Vasquez did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
A report by the Tempe police stated that Vasquez was looking down repeatedly instead of tracking the road. In March 2019, prosecutors said that Uber was not criminally liable in the accident.
“Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community,” said Maricopa County Attorney Alister Adele. “When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have the responsibility to safely control and operate that vehicle.”
Police said the first accident was “completely avoidable” and that Vasque was watching “The Voice” TV program at the time of the accident.
In November, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) defected to Vasquez’s Invites and Uber for insufficient attention to safety and decisions in the company’s autonomous vehicle development.
The NTSB said the probable cause was Vasquez’s failure to monitor the driving environment “because she was visually distracted during the trip by her personal cell phone.” She was about to work in the event of an emergency.
The NTSB said Uber made a series of development decisions, which contributed to the cause of the crash. The modified Volvo XC90’s software did not identify Herzberg as properly pedestrianized and did not address the “automation decency of operators”.
Uber disabled the automatic emergency braking system in the Volvo XC90 vehicle and immediately began using emergency braking, relying on the back-up driver.
Reporting by David Shepperson; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Stephen Coats