Earlier this year, an Arizona woman was killed when she was struck by an Uber self-driving test vehicle. Elaine Herzberg was crossing a Tempe street with her bicycle when the tragic accident occurred. In response, Uber immediately pulled all self-driving test vehicles from cities nationwide.
Although the Uber test vehicle was in autonomous (self-driving) mode when the fatal crash occurred, there was a human operator behind the wheel in case of an emergency. According to the Tempe Police Department, Rafaela Vasquez was watching Hulu when she was supposed to be watching the road. Police also commented that the crash was “entirely avoidable.”
Was it Criminal?
Tempe police were able to obtain records from the online service that was monitoring the autonomous Uber. Records showed that Vasquez was streaming “The Voice” for approximately 40 minutes, stopping at exactly 9:59 p.m., which also happens to be the “approximate time of the collision.” In addition, police say she took her eyes off the road for nearly seven of the 22 minutes leading up to the collision.
These findings were submitted to prosecutors, and criminal charges—such as vehicular manslaughter—may follow. A Boston criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with vehicular manslaughter or any other crime.
What is Vehicular Manslaughter?
The definition and penalties vary somewhat from state to state, but manslaughter is generally defined as the non-premeditated killing of one person by another. In MA, vehicular manslaughter falls under one of two categories—involuntary manslaughter or motor vehicle homicide.
- Involuntary manslaughter occurs when an individual unintentionally kills another while engaged in some form of reckless or wanton conduct. Reckless driving that leads to the death of another could be charged as involuntary manslaughter. In MA, punishment for involuntary manslaughter can be up to 20 years imprisonment.
- Motor vehicle homicide, on the other hand, usually involves driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In MA, all motor vehicle homicide convictions carry a 15-year license suspension, up to a lifetime revocation (if you have a prior OUI conviction). If convicted of motor vehicle homicide, you may be facing up to 15 years in prison.
In addition to potential criminal charges, a civil wrongful death claim may be brought against both Vasquez and Uber. Although Uber has not commented, the ride-share giant claimed to be initiating a “top-to-bottom safety review” last month.
“We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review,” said an Uber spokeswoman. “We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles. We plan to share more on the changes we’ll make to our program soon.” A MA criminal defense attorney can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.
Although three drivers have been killed in Tesla Autopilot vehicles since 2016, the death of Elaine Herzberg was the first non-driver fatality involving a self-driving vehicle. Continue reading