New Details Emerge Regarding Uber Self-Driving Vehicle Accident in Tempe, Arizona

Disturbing new details have emerged regarding what exactly occurred in the last minutes prior to the late March crash in which a bicyclist was killed by an Uber self-driving vehicle as she crossed a road while wheeling her bicycle in Tempe, Arizona.  The Tempe police recently released evidence that shows the company’s safety driver, who was supposed to be monitoring the road for any hazards in the event the vehicle failed to detect them, was watching a television show on her mobile phone instead at the time of impact.  Other recently released evidence by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after its own preliminary investigation showed that the car’s software and sensors were confused up until the point of impact.  This reflects poorly not only on the reliability of autonomous cars more generally but also has opened up the safety driver herself to potential criminal and civil liability for her own role in the bicyclist’s death.

The NTSB’s Findings Regarding the Vehicle’s Sensors and Software

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) preliminary report released on May 24th regarding the Tempe accident also concluded that both the vehicle’s software and the safety driver’s inattention were to blame for the accident, according to a report from British magazine The Economist.  Although it was dark, the car’s laser radar sensors first detected the bicyclist six seconds before impact. But the car’s sensors then became confused and first classified the bicyclist as an unknown object, then as a vehicle, and finally as a bicycle. A mere 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving vehicle’s software system finally determined emergency braking was needed. However, the car’s emergency braking system had been disabled because the human safety operator in the vehicle was expected to brake when needed.  Instead, as discussed below, the safety driver was instead watching the television streaming service Hulu at that exact moment.

The Tempe Police’s Findings

According to a report from technology website CNET and a related Reuters report, Tempe police accessed the safety driver’s Hulu account to determine exactly what she was doing in the moments immediately preceding impact as well as at the moment of impact itself.  Those records showed that she was streaming the television program The Voice at the time of impact.  Previous reports had shown the driver was looking down based on video footage from the car, but not what she was actually doing.  The police also determined that the safety driver was “distracted or looking down” nearly one-third (7) of the 22 minutes leading up to the crash and that she was streaming the television program for approximately 42 minutes in total during the night in question.  Most conclusively, Tempe police have labeled the accident as “entirely preventable” if the safety driver had been paying attention in the moments leading up to and upon impact with the bicyclist.

New Liability Questions for the Car’s Safety Driver

The recent findings by both the NTSB and Tempe police also raise liability issues for the safety driver, as Arizona prosecutors are reportedly considering filing criminal charges against her as a result of the fatality.  The Tempe police report specifically concluded that she could potentially be charged with vehicular manslaughter. That determination ultimately will be made by local prosecutors, who will review the evidence to determine whether or not to file charges against the safety driver.  In addition to criminal liability, the safety driver may also face civil liability if the bicyclist’s survivors file a wrongful death action in connection with her death.  Uber would certainly be a party to such a lawsuit given that it owned and programmed the vehicle that killed the bicyclist, but the Tempe police and NTSB findings also reflect there may be enough factual evidence to support claims against the safety driver as well as the company itself in connection with the bicyclist’s death.

Contact Schwed, Adams & McGinley if You Have Been Injured or a Loved One Has Been Killed in a Florida Motor Vehicle or Pedestrian Accident

At Schwed Adams & McGinley, P.A., our experienced personal injury attorneys have more than 150 years of combined legal experience and many of our firm’s cases stem from motor vehicle accidents in which our clients have suffered catastrophic injuries or have been the victim of a wrongful death. Our attorneys have dealt with some of the most complex legal issues and factual scenarios imaginable in attempting to recover maximum damages for our clients.  A complicated factual scenario like that presented by the first self-driving pedestrian death in Tempe, Arizona, would not cause our experienced attorneys any trouble in determining who to sue or what claims to assert.  Instead, our experienced motor vehicle accident and pedestrian accident attorneys would meticulously approach the case like they do every case, by gathering all the relevant evidence and facts and doing whatever is necessary to obtain a maximum recovery for our client.  No matter the type of accident or scenario, contact our experienced attorneys at contact@schwedlawfirm.com or (877) 694-6079 for a free consultation today if you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a motor vehicle accident in Florida.

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