A video from an Uber-owned self-driving car that fatally struck a woman on Sunday shows that she abruptly moved in front of it, police told the San Francisco Chronicle, a factor that could play into the investigation of the crash.
Sylvia Moir, police chief in Tempe, Arizona, where the crash occurred, told the Chronicle in an interview that the Uber driver described “it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them.”
“His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision,” the police chief said. (The driver has been identified variously as Rafael Vasquez or Rafaela Vasquez; Tempe police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
The victim, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was found unconscious at the scene and later died of her injuries at a nearby hospital. Tempe police have said it appears that she may have been homeless.
Police have footage from two cameras inside the vehicle, including one facing the street. The car was traveling at 38 mph in a 35 mph zone, but a screenshot of the road taken by Google Maps suggests it could’ve been a 45 mph zone. The police department’s preliminary investigation indicates the car made no attempt to brake.
From viewing the videos, “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 told the Chronicle. Police don’t have plans to release the videos while the investigation’s ongoing.
Moir didn’t rule out possible criminal charges, and new rules set by an executive order from Arizona’s cover leaves Uber potentially liable.
Police later said in a statement to Bloomberg that it would defer to county prosecutors on the question of bringing charges, but didn’t dispute her remarks, before walking them back slightly by saying: “Tempe Police Department does not determine fault in vehicular collisions.”
Focusing on whether Herzberg stepped in front of the car sidesteps key, arguably more important questions that’s likely the focus of investigators: Why didn’t Uber’s technology catch Herzberg before it was too late and slow down? And why didn’t the safety operator at the wheel respond in time?
Uber didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update (March 22, 9:45 a.m.): Tempe police on Wednesday released video of the crash, contradicting the narrative offered by the city’s police chief. The video shows the driver was looking down moments before the crash. It also reveals the victim coming into frame at least two seconds prior to the collision, walking across the road, not stepping in front of the car at the last moment, as it was characterized. As such, we’ve updated the headline to reflect the description of events came from police.