Tempe Police Say "No Fault By Uber" In Fatal Crash

Following yesterday's market-moving report of a fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber car on the roads of Tempe, Arizona, legal experts immediately chimed in, saying this case presents many thorny legal issues - chief among which is the issue of who could be at fault.

Since it was the first recorded fatality involving a self-driving car, would investigators point the finger at the car's human driver? Uber? The car's manufacturer? Some combination of the three (or none of the above).

In the first hint at the investigation being carried out by Tempe police, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Tempe police chief said her preliminary investigation suggested that Uber wasn't at fault. Police Chief Sylvia Moir described the victim, the possibly homeless 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, as pushing a bicycle laden with plastic shopping bags when she abruptly stepped from the center media into a lane of traffic before being struck by the car.

"I suspect preliminarily it appears that the Uber would likely not be at fault in this accident, either," Moir said.

Moir added that she "wouldn't rule out" the possibility of charges against the backup driver in the vehicle, even though she said it appeared that neither a human driver or an autonomous car could've reasonably been expected to avoid the victim, who was caught on video abruptly stepping into the roadway into oncoming traffic.

To be sure, Moir said a finding that the car itself was at fault could open up a legal can of worms.

"This is really new ground we're venturing into," she said.

The car, which was traveling at 38 mph in a 35 mph zone when the accident occurred Sunday night, made no attempt to brake, according to the Police Department’s preliminary investigation. Herzberg was found unconscious at the scene, and declared dead at a local hospital.

"The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them," Moir said. "His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision."

In response, Uber has halted testing of all autonomous vehicles, although that may change fast if Uber is found to be not at fault. The self-driving Volvo SUV was outfitted with at least two video cameras: one facing forward toward the street, and another monitoring the inside of the car, Moir said.


A review of a video of the accident - which police said will not be publicly released just yet - showed that "it’s very clear it would have been difficult to avoid this collision in any kind of mode (autonomous or human-driven) based on how she came from the shadows right into the roadway," Moir said. The accident unfolded less than 100 yards from the nearest crosswalk.

"It is dangerous to cross roadways in the evening hour when well-illuminated, managed crosswalks are available," she said.

Tempe police are working with investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Hundreds of autonomous cars are operating in Arizona - but Moir said she's only aware of one other accident that occurred a year ago. The car, which was in self-driving mode, was flipped onto its side. But police cited the other car involved as the party responsible for the accident, finding that its human driver failed to yield. That driver was issued a ticket for a moving violation.


whatswhat1@yahoo.com dfwpike Tue, 03/20/2018 - 09:25 Permalink

Same thing happened to me.

Driving 35 MPH, 2 AM, no traffic, no people. Nothing moving. Nice and relaxed.

A 30-something Asian, dressed in all black clothing, on a median strip, standing behind a bush and a road sign, jumps out in front of my car.

I'm very sensitive to any movement and I'm able to slam on the brakes.  Split second reaction.  Most drivers would have killed him.

He blew it.  He was trying to kill himself. 

I called the cops when I got home.  They knew the guy. 

In reply to by dfwpike

Pool Shark RafterManFMJ Tue, 03/20/2018 - 10:18 Permalink

A human driver has seen hundreds of bag-ladies and would have recognized this one a block away.

A human driver knows that bag-ladies act squirrely and sometimes dart out into traffic.

A human driver would have changed lanes away from the bag-lady, or slowed down in anticipation of squirrelly bag-lady style movements.

Those of you who drive through downtown/inner-city neighborhoods know what I’m talking about. The bag-lady shouldn’t have darted into traffic, but human drivers know this is a common occurrence, and anticipate it.

Sad, but maybe Uber is the solution to the homeless problem...

In reply to by RafterManFMJ

Joe Davola DisorderlyConduct Tue, 03/20/2018 - 11:20 Permalink

Granted, we humans are stuck with our 5 senses to interact with the world, but don't these things have radar to sense movement?  Also, wouldn't it have infrared also to determine heat signatures.  And lastly, it was over the speed limit - I would label that as at least partially at fault.  People falling all over themselves to place the blame elsewhere, when the claims by the autonomous advocates is that they will be safer and more capable than humans.

In reply to by DisorderlyConduct

RAT005 HenryKissinger… Tue, 03/20/2018 - 13:13 Permalink

I like Pool Shark's explanation.  Why was the car going 38 in a 35 if the computer was in charge?  How did the lady get all the way across the front of the car while walking a bag laden bike?  She went from left to right and made it all the way to the right side and no brake action by car!?  I still say it isn't right.  Also, at that time, was it likely she had to wait at the median or was she moving all the way across?  And why did the lady make a deadly decision but almost made it across?  Either death by Uber or not.  I think she thought she would make it and maybe figured she only needed half way before the driver would have to slow for her, kind of her sticking it to the man.  But they never slowed, and killed her.  I think this is a long way from over.  The time it takes her to walk 10 feet from median to right side of car is more than half the time necessary to make a FULL stop.

In reply to by HenryKissinger…

whatswhat1@yahoo.com RAT005 Tue, 03/20/2018 - 15:29 Permalink

As far as violating the speed limit, my cruise control does the same thing, especially on inclines and declines.  Anyone who believes a computer is going to be 100% all of the time is a fool.  Can a computer out perform a human? Of course.  Will human driven cars kill people? Will self-driving cars kill people? Yes. Yes.

In reply to by RAT005

RAT005 whatswhat1@yahoo.com Tue, 03/20/2018 - 18:38 Permalink

In general, I agree with you, but there was no down hill there.  We're not talking about possibly not braking at all and hitting the left side of the car hard, nor slamming on the brakes and skidding into her on the right side and hitting her with medium force.  It's the worst of both, not slowing down and hitting her on the right side of the car.  Also a righty walks with the bike on the right side of them where it would have been between her and the car.  At medium force impact it can protect her a little.

I still say something strange is going on to give Uber a pass.  I hope we get to see the video some day but I doubt it.  I think it will show her in front of the car with no effort to stop.  I'm imagining a little bit slow homeless person protecting the bags on their bike slowly walking everything across the road and making it most of the way past the car.  There are multiple lanes + bike lane + a median.  Coming from the left (middle) there are no trees to hide behind like possibly when coming from the right.

In reply to by whatswhat1@yahoo.com

risk.averse RAT005 Tue, 03/20/2018 - 23:20 Permalink

Why was the car going 38 in a 35 if the computer was in charge? 

Modern cars come out of the factory with their speedometers set to read high. My understanding is that all manufacturers now do this to compensate for different tire pressures etc. The principle being: better to read high then risk a lawsuit from owners getting fined for speeding and blaming the car manufacturers.  So, if the car's speedometer was reading 38 mph it probably really was closer to 35 that the car was travelling. Maybe the Uber system knows this and deliberately "speeds" to be more efficient for its master?


When my car's speedometer tells me I'm doing 65 mph it's actually closer to 60 in reality -- I've checked it.

In reply to by RAT005

ElTerco DaBard51 Wed, 03/21/2018 - 23:31 Permalink

'Robots; doing better than humans so far, it seems."

Sorry, but most of that 2.6% increase in accidents last year was probably due to "driver assist" features that have come on the market in the last year, and were not properly accounted for in the accident report, or at least not in the DOT statistics.

A 2.6% increase is a statistically significant jump that probably could not have occurred without a new variable being introduced to the driving environment.

In reply to by DaBard51

Chairman Pool Shark Tue, 03/20/2018 - 12:42 Permalink

Actually a good point.  I always drive very carefully through the homeless area, well below the speed limit because I never know how drunk they are or what they are on, Uber should know where homeless areas are, slow down below the speed limit and stay in the center lanes away from bushy medians.  If the speed limit was 35 and the car was going 38 then it was violating the speed limit as many a judge has informed me.




In reply to by Pool Shark

mc225 Pool Shark Tue, 03/20/2018 - 13:28 Permalink

--A human driver has seen hundreds of bag-ladies and would have recognized this one a block away.--


have to admit, my own observations of homeless behavior matches what you say. too many times, there's been an oblivious vagrant wearing a blanket, meandering through the elements, across the road. i'm not even being sarcastic. 'watch out for random homeless appearing in the road' is 'a thing'...



In reply to by Pool Shark

risk.averse whatswhat1@yahoo.com Tue, 03/20/2018 - 23:26 Permalink

Not only crazy but stupid: jumping in front of a car is not a certain way to commit suicide. Fair chance one would survive and be left with very painful injuries. Better a truck travelling at freeway speeds.

People jumping in front of moving trains sometimes survive. Train is slowing down to a stop at a station platform is not travelling all that fast. The wheels could sever your limbs and possibly not kill you instantly. The pain would be extreme while you bleed out.

I guess suicidal people don't always think logically.

In reply to by whatswhat1@yahoo.com

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In reply to by GotAFriendInBen

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In reply to by slopz38