Arizona Police has released a dashcam footage that shows the moments before the fatal collision with the pedestrian occurred. The video released by the Tempa police shows that the car was driving at 38ph in a 45-mph zone. It was a relatively empty road as well. A woman who was walking while rolling her bicycle appears in front of the car suddenly. The car did not slow down before the impact. The police said that neither the car nor the driver braked before the impact.
The victim of the accident was identified as Elaine Herzberg, who was 49 years old. In another clip, the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was shown sitting behind the wheel while the car was riding on its own. In the final seconds that lead up to the collision, the driver Vasquez, who was supposed to take control of the car, was seen looking down and to the side. The footage back up the driver’s claim that she was alert during the ride and nothing could have avoided the collision no matter what she had done.
An Uber’s spokesman said, “The video is disturbing and heartbreaking to watch, and our thoughts continue to be with Elaine’s loved ones. Our cars remain grounded, and we’re assisting local, state and federal authorities in any way we can.” Vasquez was supposed to take control of the vehicle in case anything goes wrong and act like a safety driver. She told the police that Herzberg, stepped out in front of her with her bicycle and multiple shopping bags and there was no time to brake before the car hit her.
She was traveling at 40 mph at that time on a road which had 45 mph speed limit. She insisted that she was alert but there was nothing she could have done to avoid the collision. Her story is supported by the footage from cameras fitted at the front and back of the Volo SUV. Earlier this week, it also came out that Vasquez had an arrest and conviction for attempted armed robbery in the last few years. She had two felony convictions when she was hired by Uber for its self-driving car trials in the Phoenix, Arizona.
In 2001, her conviction for attempted armed robbery led to a five-year sentence of which she served more than four years and was freed in November 2004. She also attempted to rob a Blockbuster video store with an imitation firearm. She was also convicted of unsworn falsification committed in 1999, which means that she gave a false statement to a public official and received a concurrent one year sentence. At that time she was known as Rafael and was identified as male. It is unknown when she transitioned to female.
Initially, police described Vasquez as a man. Sylvia Moir, Temple Police Chief said, “The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them.His [sic] first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision.” He 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.” The accident made Uber to pull all of its self-driving cars in Arizona and in Pittsburgh and Toronto. They are operating there in test mode.
This crash is the first of its kind as the cars were introduced to roads in 2016. Another incident last year showed one vehicle flipping onto its side. Herzberg’s death has also raised concerns that whether the vehicles should be trusted in the same way as regular cars. However, police have said that the company is not at fault at all. It is also not clear if Uber plans to return the vehicles to the road or not. Uber’s spokesman told, “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with authorities and investigations of this incident.”
Herzberg’s friends are asking to close down the technology following the crash. Deniel Klapthor, a friend of Herzberg, lashed out at the company and said that they must face harsh penalties over the death. Klapthor said, “Uber should be shut down for it. There has to be a bigger punishment than not allowing them to drive it on the street.” Serious questions have arisen to the driver’s qualification, especially after witnessing her criminal background. Herzberg herself had a criminal record and had been in and out of custody for minor offenses. However, neither she nor the driver was under influence of any drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. So far no charges have been brought against Vasquez. Uber has also been very quiet about the matter and witnessing the ongoing criminal investigation.