When an Uber self-driving car struck and killed a pedestrian crossing a street, many bemoaned the critical decision making skills of artificial intelligence. Now footage of the incident has been released, and the footage shows a tricky situation that even the most alert driver would have had difficulty avoiding. So who is at fault?
The video isn’t high definition. The pedestrian who was struck is almost invisible until the car’s headlights hit fer full-on. She’s also wearing black and crossing outside of a crosswalk.
The video released by Tempe police on Wednesday indicates that the Volvo was driving 38-mph in a 45-mph zone.
Elaine Herzberg, 49, appears for a brief moment before she is struck. Neither the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, nor the self-driving car braked.
Vasquez was in the car as the safety driver. She was clearly not focused on the road. In the moment before impact, she sees what’s about to happen.
“The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones,” an Uber spokesperson told reporters.
“Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.”
As the story broke, many blamed Uber. The story became more complicated when news broke that Herzberg had run-ins with law enforcement. Vasquez, too, is a felon. Those details don’t mitigate the tragic circumstances, though.
Herzberg was obviously jaywalking. She was pushing a bike, at night, in a poorly lit area, wearing black, and carrying multiple shopping bags.
Though Vasquez claims she was paying attention, she clearly isn’t paying close attention.
“The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them,” said Sylvia Moir, the Tempe Police Chief.
“His [sic] first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision,” Moir added.
“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.”