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Streaming Live Can Kill

MOBILE TECHNOLOGY BECOMES MANSLAUGHTER

On June 19, 2018, almost two months to the day after the fatal accident of an Uber self-driving car and a pedestrian in Tempe Arizona, police there released a detailed report of the collision that included video and photos. The report was 300 pages, and contained startling details. Among the most noteworthy items: the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was streaming an episode of “The Voice” on her cell phone at the time that Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed, and the local district attorney is pursuing manslaughter charges against Vasquez. The video from inside the car shows that Vasquez’s eyes were off the roadway almost 7 minutes out of the 21 minutes the vehicle was in motion, meaning that the driver’s eyes were diverted from the roadway nearly one third or 32% of travel time.

Immediately after the accident, Arizona suspended Uber from continuing to operate its self-driving car tests. (Uber voluntarily ceased operations in all other cities as well.) Arizona Governor Doug Ducey characterized the accident as an “unquestionable failure to comply with the expectation” that public safety is the top priority for all who operate autonomous vehicle technology in Arizona. Ducey stated that he found the video of the accident “disturbing and alarming.”

On May 23, Uber announced plans to lay off 300 Uber workers in Arizona, and focus on its autonomous vehicle operations in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. However, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto responded to Uber’s stated intentions by saying that he had not been in any discussions with Uber about restarting their testing program, and any resumption of the self-driving operations in Pittsburgh would require that Uber meet more stringent safety requirements. Furthermore, no operations could restart until the federal investigation into the accident in Arizona is completed.

DISTRACTED DRIVING

Even though the car that hit Ms. Herzberg was a high-tech, self-driving vehicle in autonomous mode, it was arguably the failure of a low-tech, old-fashioned “system” that led to the fatal accident—a human driver. The bottomline in this tragic accident may be an all-too-familiar one: driver distraction. Some statistics support this conclusion: the number one cause of distracted driving is cell phone use; the number one cause of motor vehicle accidents is distracted driving. Using simple syllogistic logic, it is not difficult to arrive at the next fact: 26% of all car crashes involve cell phones. In 2013 alone, 3,154 people were killed due to distracted driving. In a typical year, 421,000 people are injured due to distracted driving.

It is probably not surprising that the most common form of distracted driving involving cell phone use is texting while driving, and the most likely age group to engage in this is activity is the 18-33 year old group. Millennials should not be smug, however; 34-45 year olds almost tie their younger peers for the frequency of texting and driving. According to AAA, 94% of teen drivers acknowledge the dangers of texting and driving, but 35% admitted to doing it anyway; 21% of teen drivers involved in fatal accidents were distracted by their cell phones. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration estimates that texting and driving causes 330,000 crashes annually; 78% of distracted drivers are distracted due to texting.

SAFER WHEN AUTONOMOUS? NOT YET

The report released by the police in Tempe, Arizona contained another interesting finding that was almost lost amidst the news about the distracted driver. The report noted that in order for the accident on March 18, 2018 to have occurred, all four safety systems in the Uber self-driving vehicle had to have failed. These systems are as follows:

1. Top-mounted lidar, which uses light to detect objects around the vehicle;

2. Front-mounted radar, which employs radio waves to detect objects around the vehicle;

3. Short and long-range optimal cameras;

4. The safety driver.

All four of these systems (although human, the driver is included as a system) send their information to a central computing unit that acts as the “brain” of the vehicle, and that should have stopped the car well before it hit the pedestrian, Ms. Herzberg. The fact that all four failed to detect her presence is a stunning indictment of the state of readiness of autonomous vehicles for mass consumption.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you love has been injured in an accident with a distracted driver, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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