Uber's self-driving car 'safety driver' charged in fatal 2018 crash

The driver who was behind the wheel of the autonomous vehicle is arraigned on one count of negligent homicide.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

One of Uber's autonomous vehicles was involved in a fatal crash in Tempe, Ariz., in March 2018.


It's been more than two years since one of Uber's self-driving cars operating in full autonomous mode hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. On Tuesday, local authorities said the vehicle operator, or "safety driver," who worked for Uber and was in the car at the time of the crash had been charged with one count of negligent homicide.

The announcement comes after the National Transportation Safety Board ruled last November that the main cause of the fatal accident was the vehicle operator, Rafaela Vasquez, 46, who failed to monitor the road and was distracted by her cellphone. The board also said Uber's "inadequate safety culture" contributed to the incident.

"Distracted driving is an issue of great importance in our community," Allister Adel, an attorney for Tempe's county, Maricopa, said in a statement on Tuesday. "When a driver gets behind the wheel of a car, they have a responsibility to control and operate that vehicle safely and in a law-abiding manner."

After the fatal crash, Uber temporarily pulled all its autonomous vehicles from public roads and shuttered its Arizona operations. The accident was the first known pedestrian death caused by a vehicle operating in full autonomous mode. At that time, Uber's self-driving program fell under the scrutiny of local police, lawmakers and federal investigators. It also called into question the safety of self-driving cars overall. 

Uber restarted on-road testing of its autonomous vehicles in December of 2018. Since the Arizona crash, it's pledged to have two safety drivers in all cars, placed four-hour driving limits for drivers and developed a safety management system, along with other measures. The company also published a voluntary safety self-assessment in 2018.

At her arraignment in county superior court on Tuesday, Vasquez pled not guilty. The case is expected to proceed to trial in coming months.

Uber declined to comment on the charge against Vasquez.

Watch this: Are Uber's self driving cars in trouble after first fatality? (The 3:59, Ep. 372)