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Uber safety driver in autonomous car charged in 2018 fatality

Uber safety driver in autonomous car charged in 2018 fatality
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An image from dashcam footage released by the Tempe Police Department shows the moment before the collision of an Uber self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian on March 18, 2018. (AFP)

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WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES -- An Uber safety driver at the wheel of an autonomous car during a 2018 accident in Arizona that killed a pedestrian has been charged with negligent homicide, prosecutors said.

The Maricopa County prosecutor s office said in a statement Tuesday that 46-year-old Rafaela Vasquez had been indicted in the death of Elaine Herzberg on March 18, 2018.

Vasquez was behind the wheel of the Uber self-driving car operating in autonomous mode when it struck and killed Herzberg, who was pushing a bicycle across an unlit section of roadway at night.

No charges were filed immediately after the incident, but a National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that Vasquez, who was able to take the controls from the autonomous car at any time, "was visually distracted throughout the trip by a personal cell phone."

"Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community," said Maricopa prosecutor Allister Adel.

"When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely and in a law-abiding manner."

Officials said Vasquez pleaded not guilty and was released with an ankle monitor.

The incident halted Uber s testing and raised questions about the technology used in autonomous vehicles.

The NTSB report also concluded that Uber s "inadequate safety risk assessment procedures" contributed to the accident.

Uber had disabled a factory-installed collision warning system and automatic emergency braking system for the Volvo sport utility vehicle.

Uber temporarily suspended its autonomous ridesharing program, eventually putting its self-driving cars back on the road in Pittsburgh in "manual mode," with a driver at the wheel at all times.
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