Arizona prosecutor: Uber not liable in deadly crash (but back-up driver may face charges)

Remember this crash which happened last March in Tempe, Arizona? A self-driving Uber test vehicle with a human back-up driver ran into a woman walking her bicycle across the street at night. Uber’s ability to test the autonomous cars in the state was halted after the accident. Today, prosecutors announced Uber will not be held criminally responsible for the crash. However, Reuters reports the backup driver may be another story:

The Yavapai County Attorney said in a letter made public that there was “no basis” for criminal liability for Uber, but that the conduct of the back-up driver, Rafael Vasquez, should be referred to the Tempe police for additional investigation.

Police said last year that Vasquez was streaming a television show on a phone until about the time of the crash and called the incident “entirely avoidable.”…

Police obtained records from Hulu, an online service for streaming TV shows and movies, which showed Vasquez’s account was playing the TV talent show “The Voice” for about 42 minutes on the night of the crash, ending at 9:59 p.m., which “coincides with the approximate time of the collision,” the report said.

When I first wrote about this I noted that Vasquez seemed distracted and maybe could have prevented the crash by looking at the road instead of down at a phone. There was also a question raised at the time about the quality of the video released by Uber. It was extremely dark compared to videos taken at night on the same stretch of road. Here’s one of those comparison videos. The place where the crash happened is visible about 33 seconds in:

Now compare that to the video Uber released (this shows the second up to the accident but not the accident itself):

It’s substantially darker. It appears the judge may have noticed this as well. At least that’s how I read this portion of the Yavapai County Attorney’s letter:

Based on the entire investigation, this Office has concluded that 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.

She’s saying Uber isn’t liable so she’s not suggesting Uber did anything to the video, only that it’s not necessarily a fair representation of what the driver might have been able to see that night. The NTSB is still investigating the case so we’ll have to see what they come up with. But it seems likely the back-up driver is going to face charges.