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Arizona says no charges for Uber in self-driving car death

“There is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation arising from this matter”

An autonomous Uber parked in Tempe, Arizona.
An autonomous Uber in Tempe, Arizona a few months before the fatal accident.
Photo by Sean Leonard/Shutterstock

The Verge reports that prosecutors in Yavapai County, Arizona have decided not to charge Uber over the autonomous car-related 2018 death of a pedestrian in Tempe, the first time a self-driving vehicle has killed a human being on the road.

In a Tuesday letter, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Sullivan Polk wrote that, although “there is no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation arising from this matter,” future investigation may be needed from other parties:

The collision video, as it displays, likely does not accurately depict the events that occurred. We therefore recommend that the matter be furthered to the Tempe Police Department to obtain additional evidence.

Specifically, we believe that an expert analysis of the video is needed. The purpose of the expert analysis is to closely match what (and when) the person sitting in the driver’s seat of the vehicle would or should have seen that night given the vehicle’s speed, lighting conditions, and other relevant factors.

Polk also writes that she is “returning the matter to Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for further review for criminal charges.”

The fatal collision happened in Maricopa County, but county officials deferred to Yavapai because of a potential conflict of interests due to previous dealings with Uber.

Charges are still possible for the car’s human safety driver, present inside the vehicle at the time of collision, if Maricopa County prosecutors decide she contributed to the accident.

The federal government is still investigating the March 2018 death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, and SF-based Uber could still be held liable on that front.

An Uber self-driving car fatally injured Herzberg as she walked a bike across the road. Although the car was under the control of the human driver at the time, an analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the vehicle had switched over from autonomous mode about a second before impact.

Uber suspended its self-driving car program in response to Herzberg’s death, only to restart nine months later, putting self-driving cars back on the streets in hometown San Francisco, albeit only in manual mode.