It’s been more than two years since one of Uber’s self-driving cars operating in full autonomous mode hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. On Tuesday, local authorities said the vehicle operator, or “safety driver,” who worked for Uber and was in the car at the time of the crash had been charged with one count of negligent homicide.
The move comes after the National Transportation Safety Board ruled last November that the main cause of the fatal accident was the vehicle operator, Rafaela Vasquez, 46, who failed to monitor the road and was distracted by her cell phone. The board also said Uber’s “inadequate safety culture” contributed to the incident.
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“Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community,” Allister Adel, an attorney for Tempe’s county, Maricopa, said in a statement on Tuesday. “When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely and in a law-abiding manner.”
After the fatal crash, Uber temporarily pulled all its autonomous vehicles from public roads and shuttered its Arizona operations. The accident was the first known pedestrian death caused by a vehicle operating in full autonomous mode. At that time, Uber’s self-driving program fell under the scrutiny of local police, lawmakers and federal investigators. It also called into question the safety of self-driving cars overall.
Uber restarted on-road testing of its autonomous vehicles in December of 2018. Since the Arizona crash, it’s pledged to have two safety drivers in all cars, placed four-hour driving limits for drivers, developed a safety management system, along with other measures. The company also published a voluntary safety self-assessment in 2018.
At her arraignment in county superior court on Tuesday, Vasquez pled not guilty. The case is expected to proceed to trial in coming months.
Uber declined to comment on the charge against Vasquez.