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Tempe police releases video of fatal collision involving self-driving Uber

PHOENIX — Tempe police released video Wednesday of a fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber vehicle that occurred earlier this week.

The video was less than 30 seconds long and it included views from both the interior and exterior of the car.

It began with an exterior shot and showed what appeared to be a dark roadway. The crash occurred later Sunday night.

Suddenly, the victim — 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg — was seen in the car’s headlights wheeling her red bike across the street.

The video cut off just prior to the crash.

It then switched to the interior view which showed the employee, 44-year-old Rafael Vasquez, in the driver’s seat. The car was in self-driving mode.

In the lead up to the crash, it appeared that Vasquez was looking away from the road for several seconds.

The video ended with Vasquez reacting to the crash.

In an exclusive interview with the San Francisco Chronicle published before the video’s release, Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir said the crash may have been unavoidable.

“It’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway,” the chief told the outlet.

The chief said it appeared that Uber may not be at fault in the accident, though other charges could result.

“I won’t rule out the potential to file charges against the (backup driver) in the Uber vehicle,” she said, adding that it would be “new ground” should the robotic car found to be at fault.

But two experts who viewed the video told The Associated Press that the SUV’s laser and radar sensors should have spotted Herzberg and her bicycle in time to brake.

“The victim did not come out of nowhere. She’s moving on a dark road, but it’s an open road, so Lidar (laser) and radar should have detected and classified her” as a human, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor who studies autonomous vehicles.

Smith said the video may not show the complete picture, but “this is strongly suggestive of multiple failures of Uber and its system, its automated system, and its safety driver.”

Sam Abuelsmaid, an analyst for Navigant Research who also follows autonomous vehicles, said laser and radar systems can see in the dark much better than humans or cameras and that Herzberg was well within the range.

“It absolutely should have been able to pick her up,” he said. “From what I see in the video it sure looks like the car is at fault, not the pedestrian.”

Smith said that from what he observed on the video, the Uber driver appears to be relying too much on the self-driving system by not looking up at the road.

“The safety driver is clearly relying on the fact that the car is driving itself. It’s the old adage that if everyone is responsible no one is responsible,” Smith said. “This is everything gone wrong that these systems, if responsibly implemented, are supposed to prevent.”

The experts were unsure if the test vehicle was equipped with a video monitor that the backup driver may have been viewing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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