back to article Safety driver at the wheel of self-driving Uber car that killed a pedestrian is charged with negligent homicide

The safety driver who was behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber car when it hit and killed a pedestrian has been charged with negligent homicide. Prosecutors in Maricopa, Arizona, today said that following her grand jury indictment, Rafaela Vasquez will go on trial for the death of Elaine Herzberg. Vasquez, who was charged [ …

  1. IceC0ld Silver badge

    before all the arguments kick off, this all comes down to one salient point, the 'driver' in the car was there to watch out for, and apply emergency braking as required, and WAS LOOKING AT HER PHONE - no need for long drawn out lawerley discourse here, she was NOT doing the ONE thing she was asked to do .............

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge
      Boffin

      However

      That "one job" is impossible, and made so by Uber.

      Humans cannot maintain a high level of concentration for long periods when not actually doing anything.

      On top of that, grabbing the steering and/or moving your foot onto the brake may not be physically possible within the available time.

      Mostly-autonomous is probably the most dangerous stage and needs very careful human factors analysis, which Uber didn't do.

      It also might have helped if Uber hadn't disabled the built-in driving aids.

      1. Mark Exclamation

        Re: However

        "Humans cannot maintain a high level of concentration for long periods when not actually doing anything." - This exactly. If I was sitting there in the driver's seat not actually driving the car, my attention would wander fairly quickly. I agree that this job is impossible to do to an acceptable standard, and no-one can be expected to react appropriately quickly if circumstances dictate.The whole thing is unreasonable.

        It is completely different if you are actually driving the vehicle.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: However

          Yes. To be able to take over effectively in an emergency, you need to know everything: the speed, weather conditions, road conditions, what's to your left, what's to your right, the vehicle in front, the vehicle in front of that, etc.

          Basically, all the stuff you would know if you were actually driving the thing.

          Half-arsed "computer drives, but you are the driver" systems are the worst of all possible worlds, and only exist so automation manufacturers can alpha test in live situations.

          Until we get fully autonamous driving cars (like those you see in futuristic movies) these things should be nowhere near the public highways.

          1. TomG

            Re: However

            Why could the person acting as the safety driver not know all of the conditions necessary to drive safely? Does the job description "Safety Driver" not have meaning? The situation is the person is the driver and the computer is the assistant, similar to power steering or power brakes. Unfortunately, the pedestrian failed to be aware of her surroundings.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: However

              My point was that these systems are dangerous and pointless if the human has to effectively be in full driving mode all the time. I wasnt taking about this case specifically.

          2. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: However

            "Until we get fully autonamous driving cars (like those you see in futuristic movies) these things should be nowhere near the public highways."

            It may be necessary to have separate roadways for automated and human driven vehicles. PRT systems can be very efficient since they aren't competing with cross traffic, peds and bicycles. UltraGlobal (may be out of business now) had a concept where people could own their own car that can be driven "manually" and would still be compatible with an automated PRT system that takes over when entering a controlled roadway in a city center or along a major motorway.

            It could be a long time before it's possible to have automated cars that can work in a mixed environment.

        2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: However

          If I was sitting there in the driver's seat not actually driving the car, my attention would wander fairly quickly.

          I do hope you never tke a job as an airline pilot.

          1. MarkTriumphant

            Re: However

            Airline pilots have the advantage that there are not many pedestrians (or other road users) moving around at 30,000 feet.

            1. Symon Silver badge
              Childcatcher

              Re: However

              Tell that to Peter Nielsen.

              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2002_%C3%9Cberlingen_mid-air_collision

              If only the Uber car had a TCAS. Traffic, traffic. Climb, climb. I just realised, this would only work if the Uber car was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. --->

              Or KITT. Maybe CCBB would be a Lyft car anyway...

            2. TomG

              Re: However

              airplanes can descend rather quickly. BTW, there may be other airplanes flying around, even at 30,000 feet.

              1. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: However

                "airplanes can descend rather quickly. BTW, there may be other airplanes flying around, even at 30,000 feet."

                Aircraft also have ground based controllers watching them and keeping the airways properly spaced when they are using autopilot. Even when flying VFR with the controls in your hands, there can be controllers looking after you in congested areas. IFR traffic often using autopilot will be flying above VFR altitude limits.

        3. Dom 3

          Re: However

          I wonder how driving instructors do it?

      2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: However

        grabbing the steering and/or moving your foot onto the brake may not be physically possible within the available time

        If your job is to be the safety supervisor, you should have your hands on the wheel all the time, your eyes on the road all the time, and your foot near the brake all the time. You should also be paying attention to nearly people so that you can predict what will hapen, and don't have to react at the last minute. It was why she was there.

      3. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: However

        Then don't take the job.

      4. RockBurner

        Re: However

        "Humans cannot maintain a high level of concentration for long periods when not actually doing anything."

        But we can perfectly easily sit and be enraptured by a 2 hour film..... odd that.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: However

          Not so odd as I've day-dreamed in movies.

        2. James 139

          Re: However

          I wonder if that's because you're watching the film, not doing nothing?

          Now, repeat the test, but without the film and see if you can sit for 2 hours staring at the blank screen.

          1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

            Re: However

            Not a blank screen though, is it. It's the car windscreen (or Leftpondian "windshield") and the safety driver should be observing it just as if they're really driving the car.

            I remember an angle to this was that Uber required their safety drivers to do a bunch of other stuff while the car was driving - filing reports and so on. Not clear if that argument was voided, or if the prosecutors just decided it's easier to go after the driver than the company with billion dollar backers.

            But regardless, if your job is a safety driver you concentrate on the road at all times. Don't do other shit behind the wheel. You know, just like you should when actually driving.

            If Uber want other stuff done, don't do it. If they complain you've not done it, remind them the safety driver's number one job is to cover Uber's arse from errors made by the automated system, i.e. killing pedestrians, because that really doesn't play well in the court of public opinion.

            If they still insist, quit and report them for egregious safety violations. Easier said than done, I know. But better than killing someone just so you could keep your shitty job. And from the initial reports it was a shitty job. To much to do, no time to get it done safely, pressue from management to do it anyway, leading to exactly this situation.

          2. TomG

            Re: However

            In a moving car, going down the road, you are not looking at a blank screen.

      5. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

        Re: However

        Some [h]umans cannot maintain a high level of concentration for long periods when not actually doing anything. FTFY.

        I'm not always the best-regarded passenger amongst some people I know because I don't actually stop driving. If I'm in a car, I am alert. This is, of course, utterly useless when sharing driving duties on a long journey...

        1. Clunking Fist Bronze badge

          Re: However

          You're not that uncommon. You are known as backseat drivers.

      6. stevebp

        Re: However

        How do we know this was a long way into her drive? She may have only just taken it out of the garage. If her mind started to wander, surely Uber should have been monitoring that and therefore should accept some culpability for its poor testing conditions that seemed to disregard safety!

      7. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: However

        "It also might have helped if Uber hadn't disabled the built-in driving aids."

        You can't have two independent systems trying to control the car. This is especially the case if the purpose of the drive is to test one of them. Uber may have been negligent in not implementing an emergency braking routine in their code, but that also has problems.

        I remember the footage and the driver, had they been paying attention, should have been able to avoid the accident, but the lady crossing the road was also at fault. The car's headlights should have been visible for some distance at 10pm at night and crossing in the middle of a fairly desolate stretch of road is asking for trouble.

    2. Filippo

      That's the point, really. I don't see how the judge could have decided otherwise. If, like some commentors reasonably say, the job was impossible, then the driver should have stopped the car and refused to proceed - just like you are supposed to do instead of attempting to drive a regular car while sleepy or sick. Yeah, I know that nobody does that, but the law is the law.

      1. Insert sadsack pun here

        "I don't see how the judge could have decided otherwise."

        No judge decided anything. The prosecutors pursued the case, the grand jury indicted the accused, the matter is going to trial.

    3. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      For me its clear...

      You have taken a job as a Self Driving Car Test SAFETY Driver (my capitalisation).

      Now maybe, Über are at fault and instructed her that she doesnt actually need to do anything, feel free not to concentrate, just enjoy the ride, etc. But if thats the case then I would strongly imagine that would be her first line of defence.

      But here's the thing, you ARE testing the car, thats what should have been drilled into her from the start. You might only need to take over once every hour, once every shift, but you are driving something that cannot think for itself but which can kill. You are responsible. Everything else is side dressing.

    4. Captain Boing
      Mushroom

      Elephant in the cab

      perhaps stop fiddling with your sodding phone when you are supposed to be doing something else?

      A few years back I got heavily down-voted for pointing out that you should be ready & able to take control of an autonomous vehicle for exactly this reason and it's not an excuse to become a passenger. I stand ready to receive apologies... yeah I won't hold my breath

      1. Pat Att

        Re: Elephant in the cab

        Sorry.

      2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Elephant in the cab

        Captain Boing,

        No apology from me. Don't think I'd have downvoted you though, just disagreed with you. And I still do.

        The job is impossible Pilots are massively trained in order to take over from the autopilot at short notice, but they generally have systems to make sure that they get notice of crashing into things. There's a lot of space up there, and not that much stuff.

        So the problems they're mostly trained to deal with are the systems of the plane going wrong.

        And even with all this training, and two of them being available to make it easier for one to be fully alert for only a short period - they still mess it up sometimes.

        Google had their test cars manned with 2 people. One to fill out the forms, and one to stare out of the window. So you can have them swap over, and talk to each other and also watch each other so nobody is tempted to answer a text.

        I believe in aircraft safety it's called human factors analysis. Even when one person is directly to blame for an accident - they still go off and look at why it happened. Like the BA plane where the mechanic used the wrong bolts on the windscreen and it blew out in flight. Taking the pilot with it - luckily his leg got caught and he survived having his head banged down the side of the aircraft and being held by his legs for ten minutes.

        However the mechanic was working alone, late at night, on a stupidly short deadline. The parts he needed weren't easily available, and nor were the instructions - so he tried to measure by eye and screwed up. He made the mistake, but although there was a proper procedure he should have followed, management had set the system up so that it wasn't possible to do that in the available time. So nobody actually followed procedure. So he wasn't blamed, and BA were forced to change their procedures.

    5. John Robson Silver badge

      More importantly I think that her "job" also required data entry on the phone didn't it... so why the heck Uber aren't being hauled over for corporate manslaughter as well I don't know.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
        Holmes

        She doesn't have billion dollar backers and lobbyists buying politicions. Uber does. What's an easier target for the prosecution...?

  2. cb7 Bronze badge

    It doesn't help when they keep calling it "self-driving". That makes the driver think they can leave the car to it.

    If they called it driver-assist technology for example, it's clearer that the tech is there to assist the driver, not replace them.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Except, in this case, it was a trial of a fully autonomous vehicle and the drivers job was to keep a constant eye on the situation and make sure the car didn't do anything stupid or cause an accident.

      So, she knew it was a self driving car and she knew it wasn't perfect and that she was there to monitor it and take over in an emergency, not daddel with her phone.

      1. Gordon861

        I also expect that part of the problem was that Uber didn't pay for what amounted to a Test Pilot and instead just paid someone with the same qualifications as their regular drivers.

        The people responsible for driving these things on the road should be highly qualified.

        1. EBG

          I agree

          and I also doubt the the road accident investigators have the same (or, thinking about it, probably higher) level of expertise as air accident investigators, needed for investigating AV crashes

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I agree

            > and I also doubt the the road accident investigators have the same (or, thinking about it, probably higher) level of expertise as air accident investigators, needed for investigating AV crashes

            There are far more road accidents than there are air accidents so road accident investigators will be far more experienced than their air counterparts.

            1. druck Silver badge

              Re: I agree

              There might be more road accidents but they are hell of a lot easier to investigate. There are no skid marks in the sky, and you don't have work out what has happened from tiny fragments debris scattered over hundreds of square metres.

        2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: highly qualified

          The people responsible for driving these things on the road should be highly qualified.

          Agreed.

          And, if data entry while driving is a requirement, hire someone else to do that, instead of putting the driver in the situation where you practically require them to be distracted.

          Yeah of course Uber will say publically the driver should be fully concentrating and in control at all times, while management is privately hammering their lone drivers to do two conflicting jobs at once. Scummy cunts of the highest order.

          1. TomG

            Re: highly qualified

            are you speaking as an experienced Uber driver?

          2. G.Y.

            voice Re: highly qualified

            if data-entry work were via dictation, that could work

        3. TomG

          Part of the test could be to see if an "ordinary" person could manage the task.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          In this case the level of expertise the monitor needed not to kill somebody was:

          (1) Look in the direction the vehicle is travelling

          (2) Hit the brakes when they see a person crossing in front of them.

          Hardly a test pilot.

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "So, she knew it was a self driving car and she knew it wasn't perfect and that she was there to monitor it and take over in an emergency, not daddel with her phone."

        And I imagine that she was being paid minimum wage for such a simple task as an independent contractor or at least in a position with no benefits. You get what you pay for.

        I think that the job should have had two people on board with regular tasks and frequent stops. With two people that don't regularly get paired, they are more likely to do their job in case that other person is a plant by management. With 3 people it's even harder for the group to form a cabal and skive off what they should be doing, but that's more dosh than a company like Uber will pay.

  3. RM Myers Silver badge
    WTF?

    Distracted Driving

    This reminds me of driving to work in rush hour traffic years ago, and noticing that the driver next to me on the 4 lane road was reading the newspaper while they were driving. Needless to say, I slowed down and stayed as far from that car as possible.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: Distracted Driving

      I've seen that in Malaysia. Even more distressing was that the driver was in an 300sl roadster (1957, beautiful car).

      But then they had been stuck in the same chunk of traffic for 20 mins without moving...

      1. MiguelC Silver badge

        Re: Distracted Driving

        A colleague of mine used to have a book to read while stuck in traffic. Once she was interviewed by a TV reporter who was doing a piece about the really bad traffic jams on that particular road As you might guess, she wasn't moving much if a reporter managed to have a conversation while standing outside her car...

      2. RM Myers Silver badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Distracted Driving

        In this case, traffic was actually moving at close to the speed limit. I might not have noticed he was reading a newspaper if he hadn't turned the page.

    2. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: Distracted Driving

      That was silly.

      Always speed up and get past such drivers. Just not directly in front of them. That way when they do cause a multi-vehicle pile-up the carnage is all behind you.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: Distracted Driving

        That's fine until they drive into you because, well, they haven't seen you because they're not looking where they're going.

        Or until you drive into someone else because you're looking in your mirror to see where the inattentive fool has gone.

        No single answer to this one. Except perhaps whatever you choose to do, be safe about it and don't drive like a twat just because someone else is.

        1. hoola Bronze badge

          Re: Distracted Driving

          Recently in Germany a driver of a Tesla was successfully prosecuted for being distracted whilst trying to adjust the windscreen wipers.

          Apparently the only way to do this was via some huge touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard where the radio (or more correctly infotainment system) is. There is a reason we have tactile switches for core functions are usually in similar places.

          They can be operated without any need to look. Just who designs this sort of software switched touchy-feely crap for key controls is beyond me. I find it bad enough with the radio having a mix of real buttons and soft button that change location so how the hell you can adjust the wipers on a touchscreen I don't know.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Distracted Driving

            "Apparently the only way to do this was via some huge touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard "

            And other makers are copying this poor design choice. I like having physical buttons and knobs. I can reach out and adjust things without having to look or only needing a brief glance. Having to navigate menus for something like the windscreen wipers is madness. If I drive though a sprinkler watering the roadway, I can reach out with my finger tips and pulse the wipers without looking down.

  4. Blackjack Silver badge

    Well...

    Watching TV while testing an experimental self driving car that has you as the pilot in case of an emergency was not a smart choice.

  5. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    You had one job...

    But as pointed out above it was an impossible one. People have a hard enough time keeping alert when they're in (allegedly) full control of a vehicle, particularly if they've been driving for some time on that journey, and particularly particularly if the environment is largely unchanging, such as a motorway. That said, it certainly sounds - from the admittedly thin reporting on the subject that I have seen - that the driver was goofing off on the job.

    While I am not enthused by automated driving other than as a technical tour-de-force, I wonder if one way to maintain the alertness might be to allow the robot to control the car but require the driver to provide control inputs at all times - steering, brake, throttle, indicators etc. Monitor both sets of inputs, and when the driver's input differs from the robot's by some predetermined amount, then decide to take action (e.g. driver brakes when robot doesn't, driver then has control). It would require a lot of careful thought about implementation, and steering in particular might be an interesting design challenge, but that's what test circuits are for long before you get the thing onto a road.

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: You had one job...

      From the report one of the criticisms is that Uber do not provide sufficient monitoring of the driver.

      I've driven a car with adaptive cruise control, lane following, emergency braking, etc. In theory on the motorway you could just take your hands off everything and let the car do it's stuff, at least until you wanted to overtake. In practice if you took your hands off the wheel for more than a few seconds it detected that and beeped at you, repeatedly.

      Was it useful? Yes, up to a point with a sensible driver, i.e. use the technology to carry out the mundane bits of steering and maintaining a speed leaving me free to concentrate on what's happening around me.

      Ultimately irrespective of boredom, inattention, etc. the driver should not, as has been reported, been watching a film on their phone whilst *in charge* of a moving vehicle.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: You had one job...

        I've driven a car with adaptive cruise control, lane following, emergency braking, etc. In theory on the motorway you could just take your hands off everything and let the car do it's stuff, at least until you wanted to overtake.

        My car does this. If I take my hands off the wheel it stops doing it. It’s such a good thing to have on quiet roads, but in heavy traffic l can’t bring myself to trust it. I often switch it off and drive when there is high speed traffic moving close together, not that it can’t cope with it, but I like to find safer spots in the traffic to give myself more out-options if things start going wrong.

        For instance, when you have slow heavy trucks overtaking each other and blocking multi lanes, I hang back from the bunch of idiots that queue up behind them, and wait until the problem clears. The self drive doesn’t do that, it just gets itself into the queue.

      2. steven_t

        Re: You had one job...

        Not a film: it has been reported that she was watching The Voice, which is inexcusable.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: You had one job...

        "Was it useful? Yes, up to a point with a sensible driver, i.e. use the technology to carry out the mundane bits of steering and maintaining a speed leaving me free to concentrate on what's happening around me."

        I use my cruise control all of the time. It saves gas and keeps me from slowly speeding up until I pass a cop and notice I'm way over. It's also keeps my leg from cramping up on long drives.I think it's important to do the steering, though. Those "little bits" of steering keep me in touch with how the car is behaving vs the road surface and winds. I'm also making adjustments to where I am in the lane for the the best ride and to avoid debris. Automation will try to keep the car centered regardless of the road quality and will gleefully head straight for bits of tyre tread and blocks of wood lying on the ground.

        At the point where lane keep and other steering aids are keeping me safe, it's likely time for me to pull off and get rest or to clear my head.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: You had one job...

      Her "Job" was to supervise an experimental and unproven autonomous control system for a vehicle on public roads, she failed to do that so she is culpable.

      In slight mitigation, it seems that her training and instruction was lacking.

      Also Uber were the owners and developers of the system, she was supervising on their behalf, so both the supervisor and Uber ought to be considerer culpable at minimum for not exercising duty of care.

      1. lglethal Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: You had one job...

        Im still amazed that Über didnt have a dead mans switch in the car (like with Train/Tube drivers) to make sure that the "driver" was paying attention had their hands on the wheel, etc.

        It shows either a staggering level of overconfidence in their systems or a staggering level of disregard for the wider public. Considering we're talking about Über, I'll let you decide which one of those it likely was...

        1. Allonymous Coward

          Re: You had one job...

          It shows either a staggering level of overconfidence in their systems or a staggering level of disregard for the wider public. Considering we're talking about Über, I'll let you decide which one of those it likely was

          Considering we're talking about Über, it could be both.

      2. I am the liquor Bronze badge

        Re: You had one job...

        Even before you get to training and instruction, what about the driver's qualifications to do the job in the first place. I can't help wondering whether Uber chose to hire a burger-flipper to do the job of a test pilot.

        1. TomG

          Re: You had one job...

          What is your beef with burger flippers?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You had one job...

          It wasn't a flying car.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You had one job...

        So the training failed to tell them not to watch TV while monitoring?

        It's one thing losing focus, it's another thing to be looking at your phone.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: You had one job...

      > But as pointed out above it was an impossible one. People have a hard enough time keeping alert [...]

      In general that's true. But in this case the driver didn't lose concentration, the driver deliberately diverted her concentration to her phone.

      Which, presumably, is why the authorities are prosecuting her. If she'd lost concentration while still looking ahead and lightly holding the wheel (or keeping her hands ready as instructed) then she'd have more of a defence and they may not have prosecuted her.

    4. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: You had one job...

      For my own curiousity - would any of those who downvoted me care to comment to say why?

      1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

        Re: You had one job...

        I'm not one of your down-voters: I agree with your general approach to driving and in-car automation, but speaking as both a driver and a glider pilot, I prefer to be in full control of both aircraft and car: at least I have FLARM in my glider to make sure I know about head-on approaches and faster gliders behind me: both can be very hard to see given the small cross-section and high closing speed of modern gliders. Powered aircraft approaching from behind and slightly below can be heard quite easily, but if they're close enough to hear but positioned where they can't be seen thats very scary indeed.

        I think your divided control system would be very difficult indeed to implement and may well end up being treated as 'autonomous' by the average driver. I personally wouldn't want that fitted, for the same reason that I don't use cruise control.

        To any GA pilot reading this: please DON'T approach gliders from behind: pass 2-300m to one side where we can see you about the same time as we first hear you. The noise level in most glider cockpits is minimal, so a powered plane sneaking up behind can be heard well before it becomes visible as it moves out to pass.

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: You had one job...

          A fair point: I fly a paraglider in shared airspace with fixed-wing gliders (Dunstable Downs/LGC) and visibility (and speed differential) means I keep a very good eye out. At least we never approach you from behind; even on finals you guys have fifty kph or more on us :)

          My control approached was based on a careful analysis of, oh, maybe five seconds. Perhaps the emphasis should be the other way: the driver has control, but the robot logs where it would have done it differently. In any case, the driver should have ultimate control - and should be alert and driving.

          1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

            Re: You had one job...

            ..,but the robot logs where it would have done it differently

            Neat one: maybe a better approach to training an autonomous system too, because a dual log should be invaluable as training material.

            I'm based at Gransden Lodge and have flown once at Dunstable, on a day with strong wind and 9 knot thermals. FYI my definition of 'strong wind' is when an ASK-21, flown two up, gets off the ground in its own length on the winch and finals is flown at 70kts - a good rule of thumb is 50kts+half wind speed.

      2. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: You had one job...

        I did not vote on your comment, but I think your suggested dual input system is unlikely to work and likely to be dangerous. Having the driver steering and braking means the driver is going to disagree with the car some of the time. Either the test isn't going to work because the car keeps deferring to the driver, or the car is going to ignore a lot of the driver's input. That would mean that a driver which is really in better control might have a harder time getting the car to stop because the car knows that the driver doesn't always brake with similar frequency or strength. You could have an emergency takeover button which immediately forces the car to be controlled by the driver, and that might help, but only if the drivers are trained well enough to instinctively press it at short notice.

  6. chas49

    It seems to me that a driver of a car which might ignore his/her inputs would react differently to a 'normal' driver - brake again harder perhaps?

    It would be quite different to normal driving

  7. macjules Silver badge

    faces anywhere from 12 and 44 months behind bars

    Sounds remarkably light for the USA. Surely that should be "Years"?

    1. skeptical i
      Unhappy

      Re: faces anywhere from 12 and 44 months behind bars

      America loves cars and drivers more than pedestrians, bicyclists, and anyone else deemed "in the way". Even when legal pedestrian crossings are a half-mile apart, The System still gets its panties in a wad when pedestrians dare to "jaywalk" instead of walking (or wheelchairing or schlepping a kiddie pram or ...) way out of the way to a "legal" crossing and then all the way back. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) accident report for Ms. Herzberg's death -- https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/HAR1903.pdf -- indicates that at the time of the crash the median served as an unofficial pedestrian crossing: one assumes the City of Tempe would not spend resources on "no pedestrian crossing" signs unless there were plenty of such crossings. Sad that the City of Tempe knew that pedestrians crossed here, and chose to see this as pedestrian behaviour that needs to be "fixed" instead of an indication that the pedestrian infrastructure is woefully inadequate.

      That said, there is no indication that better lighting, a user-activated "begging button" that triggers flashing red lights (to stop cars and allow pedestrians to cross), or other pedestrian safety measures would have helped in this particular instance. Possibly, but not assuredly.

  8. TRT Silver badge

    Ethics and legal positions aside...

    This woman is going to be thrown to the wolves. You'd THINK that as Uber had employed her that she would get some benefit from that, but because she wasn't doing her job, and because Uber want to shift all the blame for the epic fail onto a scape goat... she's in for the high jump. Now where that leaves recruitment for future technology testers is anyone's guess.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh come on, what's the problem?

    So the car killed a pedestrian. People who walk are not Uber's target market. In fact they're competitors. AKA targets.

  10. Nameless Faceless Computer User

    I've seen the video many times

    Even if she was fully alert with her foot hovering over the brake pedal, there's no chance she would have time to react. It's tragic that the software failed but the human element would have performed worse.

    1. Cederic Silver badge

      Re: I've seen the video many times

      Which video? There's a video that shows the actual lighting levels? They were sufficiently good that the car detected the pedestrian six seconds before impact, sufficiently good that human drivers don't mow down the pedestrians that regularly cross that stretch of road, sufficiently good that had she been fully alert she'd have seen the pedestrian with plenty of time to slow down, change lane or stop for a chat.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: I've seen the video many times

        This video is interesting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8Up9Ph_a0Y

        The guy in the driver's seat is a trained safety driver, and the robocar is followed by another vehicle. That's how it ought to be done, not by cheaping out and hiring some random person and then letting the vehicle loose on public roads.

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: I've seen the video many times

      (shrug) Doesn't matter.

      "I hit the guy because I was on my phone but there was no way I could have reacted in time anyway" isn't a defence. It's a confession.

      Fact is, she didn't even know what was happening on the road because she was looking at her phone. Even a microsecond of actual braking would have absolved her... just looking out the front screen, she could have argued that she did what she could but just didn't see the pedestrian - happens a thousand times a day around the world.

      But when you're looking at your phone... you're just not driving. That's it. That's how the law sees it. Because otherwise "looking at your phone" becomes normalised, and you become immune whenever anything happens. That's NOT what you want.

      It's almost two separate offences. Driving without due care and attention is convictable whether or not you struck a person or had any kind of "accident" (or, in 99.9% of cases, a "deliberate through negligence"). And hitting or killing a pedestrian isn't - in itself - necessarily a convictable offence. She's being jailed for the first, really, it just happened to lead to the second.

      All she had to do was not look at her phone. Like all the idiots on the road have to do is not look at their phone. Or the cyclist this morning that I nearly took out who, on a blind bend, decided to text on his phone in his hands, meaning he strayed in a straight line instead of following the bend and ended up crossing the line so the first I knew as a driver approaching around a blind bend was a cyclist not looking, not with his hands on the handlebars, and on the wrong side of the road with only yards of warning (multiple blind bends in quick succession).

      I have zero sympathy for someone who is on their phone while driving. Automated sytsem or not. If the system didn't need you, you wouldn't be in the driver's seat, you could be on the back seat having a nap and a Whatsapp. You're in the driver's seat, with brake pedals under your feet, for a reason. Put the damn phone away from the second you move off until you reach your destination. There really is no excuse these days.

  11. Jim Whitaker

    Easy issue to resolve

    This was not a "self-driving" car. It was a human driven vehicle with many driver assistance features. A true self-driving car will have no controls for the occupants and no "driver". Why does this seem so difficult for some people to grasp?

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Easy issue to resolve

      Eliminating manual controls is a good idea in theory, but less so in practise: there are too many situations where manual controls are needed.

      These include positioning the car on a lift for servicing, hooking up a trailer or caravan or backing that into a parking spot, parking the car in a field at an air show or festival, driving in deep snow or, indeed, any other situation where there are no road markings.

      And all this ignores the problems of moving a vehicle with a failed autopilot and no manual controls.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Easy issue to resolve

        If we had a fully autonomous vehicle we trusted, we'd probably have a switch that puts it into autonomous mode and disables the controls to prevent controls in the hands of people not really trying to drive from messing that up. We should also include a button to make the system autonomously pull over and stop as soon as feasible and another one to put the car into manual control (these have to be hard to press by accident). Not every driver control still has to be there, but enough to handle emergencies which are going to happen.

        1. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Easy issue to resolve

          "If we had a fully autonomous vehicle we trusted, we'd probably have a switch that puts it into autonomous mode and disables the controls to prevent controls in the hands of people not really trying to drive from messing that up."

          I have lenses for my camera that have full time focus override. I use the autofocus feature most of the time, but I can twist the collar anytime I like if the camera doesn't focus on what I want it to focus on. The same goes for a car. Having to switch off the automation to be able to correct for an AP failure takes too much time.

          Aircraft have the dual advantage of lots of space and being tracked by ground controllers. There are also new technologies being mandated such as ADS-B that has the planes communicating their positions all of the time to each other. The same sort of thing is possible for autos, but it would need a dedicated roadway devoid of 'targets" that keeps cars sufficiently spaced and also monitors the roadway for obstructions. The second requirement being the hardest. This means that only city centers and motorways that can accommodate an automated lane will be viable. There is no way that the town I live in will ever be able to afford a central automobile control system.

          One advertising argument that always gets trotted out is that "busy professionals" will be able to get work done while they're being driven. Tripe. They'll be updating their social media profiles, watching movies/TV and talking with friends. Anybody whose time is so valuable that the time driving is more profitable to be spent working has a car and driver. I have a friend that drove an attorney and made good money doing it. The attorney was so busy and had so much to read up on that having somebody doing the driving paid off in spades. It was billable hours and the cost to pay my friend was a drop in the bucket. He had a van fitted with a bespoke workspace. This was before mobile data was widely available so it would be an even bigger advantage today. On the days the attorney didn't need to go anywhere or was sat in court for hours, my friend did his school work and the job paid for his business degree and then some.

  12. silent_count

    Will they..

    Also be prosecuting the Tesla "drivers" who have "accidents" while sleeping/watching movies/reading the paper while they're supposed to be paying attention to driving their car?

  13. KBeee Bronze badge

    Autonomous cars not so good for a Taxi company?

    It opens up other questions too. If the human in the car is considered by law to be the one in overall control of the vehicle there will be problems.

    Imagine all these tests worked 100% OK, no accidents at all. On the back of this testing regime Uber gets a license to operate autonomous driving cars in a city for a trial period. Uber is a taxi company, whatever else it claims to be.

    With the increase of availability accidents start to happen - probably fewer than with human drivers, but still accidents.

    Who is to blame now? The lady in the back that's just getting her taxi home after work? The drunk guy sitting in the drivers seat singing to himself and snoozing? The non-driver that's on his way to visit friends?

    1. TomG

      Re: Autonomous cars not so good for a Taxi company?

      the entity responsible for the operation of the car. Hint; (Uber)

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Comparative negligence

    I was hoping the courts would have also gone after that other public menace involved with the crash.....

    The View

  15. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Automation and tourists

    Not having a driver sucks if you are a tourist. With a human driver you can ask to go to that place where they filmed that movie and a good driver will know what you mean. While taxi drivers are known for getting a commission, they can still be handy if you are looking for a certain type of restaurant or you are shopping for something in particular (licit or illicit). They might also be able to tell you when's the best time to visit a location and what times are the worst.

    The only upside might be if there is a language problem, but that's often covered if your mobile has coverage or you have installed a translation app.

    I've had great cab drivers that I've used for a whole week in some places.

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