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Uber Not Charged in Fatal Autonomous Car Accident

The Question

In 1939, General Motors took inspiration from pulp science fiction novels and introduced the concept of an autonomous vehicle to guests at the New York World’s Fair. This exhibit envisioned an ideal future where self-driving cars could safely transport American citizens to their intended destinations. Within twenty years, General Motors made this concept a reality, and sparked an international race to release the first mass-produced autonomous vehicle. 

The future of driving technology is no longer restricted by the limits of the human imagination. Even the popular peer-to-peer rideshare giant Uber is currently testing a self-driving vehicle. But what happens when an autonomous car kills a pedestrian? Who is liable for the family’s losses? And should the company be held criminally responsible for the fatality?

The Incident 

On March 18, 2019, a self-driving Volvo sport utility vehicle struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg as she was crossing the street with her bicycle. The Uber safety driver responsible for testing this vehicle was reportedly streaming “The Voice” on her cell phone in the minutes leading up to the crash.

Last May, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report about the crash, clarifying that the car’s computer system had, in fact, spotted Herzberg, but incorrectly classified her as an “unrecognized object,” then another vehicle, and finally a bicycle. This report also explained that the vehicle’s automatic braking system – as well as other safety features – was turned off to “reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.” In other words, the Uber safety driver was still responsible for watching the road and intervening if necessary. While the safety driver did try to swerve at the last second, she did not start breaking until after the impact occurred.

The Lawsuit

This tragic incident is the first reported pedestrian fatality caused by self-driving technology. In the last 12 months, legal representatives across the country have been waiting to see how prosecutors would approach a potential criminal investigation. After all, drivers are typically held responsible for accidents, not vehicles. And ridesharing companies often dodge liability by benefiting from a legal loophole. So what happens when a self-driving vehicle causes an accident?

Uber and the family of Elaine Herzberg settled the case out of court last March. Since then, prosecutors have been debating if Uber should be charged with a crime in light of the situation. The Yavapai County Attorney’s Office reviewed the case and officially determined that there is “no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation.” However, an investigation is currently underway to determine if the safety driver should face criminal charges for her role in the accident.

Require Legal Representation?

Sadly, safety experts don’t believe that this will be the last fatality associated with a self-driving vehicle. If you’ve been injured by a distracted safety or rideshare driver, contact the Las Vegas Uber & Lyft accident lawyers at Bernstein & Poisson today. Our legal team has over 60 years of collective legal experience and a comprehensive understanding of the legal nuances and regulations associated with rideshare accident cases. We can represent your interests and help you recover damages that facilitate your physical and financial recovery.

Contact Bernstein & Poisson at (702) 602-8869 to schedule a free consultation.