Rafaela Vasquez, the backup driver of an Uber Technologies (NYSE:UBER) self-driving vehicle involved in a fatal collision in 2018, pled guilty to endangerment. The landmark case marked the first fatality with a fully autonomous car, raising questions about responsibility in such accidents.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Garbarino, who accepted the plea agreement, sentenced Vasquez, 49, to three years of supervised probation for the crash that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.
Vasquez told police that Herzberg “came out of nowhere” and that she didn’t see Herzberg before the March 18, 2018, collision on a darkened Tempe street.
The crash involved an Uber test car, a Volvo XC90 SUV, and Vasquez was allegedly looking at her phone as it struck Herzberg, who was crossing the street with her bicycle.
Defense attorney Albert Jaynes Morrison told Garbarino that Uber should share some blame for the collision as he asked the judge to sentence Vasquez to six months of unsupervised probation, as reported by Associated Press.
“There were steps that Uber failed to take,” he said. By putting Vasquez in the vehicle without a second employee, he said, “It was not a question of if but when it was going to happen.”
Prosecutors previously declined to file criminal charges against Uber, as a corporation. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded Vasquez’s failure to monitor the road was the main cause of the crash.
The death reverberated throughout the auto industry and Silicon Valley and forced other companies to slow what had been a fast march toward autonomous ride-hailing services.
Vasquez had previously spent more than four years in prison for two felony convictions — making false statements when obtaining unemployment benefits and attempted armed robbery — before starting work as an Uber driver, according to court records.
The tragic incident had far-reaching implications, leading Uber to withdraw self-driving cars from Arizona, and the state to halt tests of self-driving vehicles. Uber later sold its self-driving unit to Aurora Innovation in 2020.
However, in May 2023, Waymo announced a multi-year partnership with Uber that will help users hail an autonomous Waymo ride via the Uber app in Phoenix starting later this year.
Produced in association with Benzinga