Company Cleared in Fatal Self-Driving Crash
A fatal crash occurred in Tempe last year involving a pedestrian and an Uber “self-driving” car. The case against Uber was shifted over to the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office, presumably because of some kind of conflict of interest with Maricopa County. The Yavapai County Attorney concluded earlier this month that there is no basis for criminal charges against Uber and sent the case back to Maricopa for a decision on whether to charge the “driver” of the vehicle.
Probably the most interesting aspect of the Yavapai County action is that it has provided no rationale – at least publicly – for its conclusion.
What happened was that a pedestrian was walking a bicycle across the road. It was nighttime, and the Uber software determined at first that the pedestrian was an unknown object, then identified it as a car or other vehicle. In any event, the car never applied the brakes, and the pedestrian was struck and killed. Her family has filed a notice of claim against the state and against Tempe for $10,000,000 in damages, reportedly involving poor roadway design.
In the meantime, the “driver” of the Uber vehicle was allegedly distracted at the time of the crash, and even though the car was in “autonomous mode,” the question remains whether charges will be brought against her.
Manslaughter in Arizona
It may be that the accident was no one’s fault (or at least no fault to which criminal liability may attach), or that the fault, if any, lies with the design of the roadway, and not with the driver or the Uber car. But the case against Uber may have lost any traction because of the relatively unique definition of manslaughter in Arizona.
Unlike most states, Arizona does not have a vehicular manslaughter statute. In an auto death case, prosecutors usually rely on a general manslaughter charge, which often involves driving under the influence (DUI), speeding, reckless driving, etc. A review of A.R.S. 13-1103 will quickly show that, as a general matter, absent specific knowing or reckless behavior on the part of the defendant, a manslaughter charge will be unlikely. Hence the absence of a manslaughter charge against Uber. The role, if any, of the driver is yet to be determined.
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