Nor was it simply about Uber, an aggressive Silicon Valley company that had disabled two safety backups — an internal fail-safe called Reflex and a factory-installed Volvo driver-assist system called City Safety — in its push to develop fleets of robotaxis. Either system may have mitigated the impact or prevented Herzberg's death.
Factors shaping traffic crashes across America all played a role. It was a crash that occurred during the testing of a promising new technology. It was a crash that showcased the distracted-driving epidemic wrought by phone-addled drivers.
It was a crash in which the car-friendly infrastructure of the Phoenix area left the nearest crosswalk 380 feet to the north of where natural crossing paths existed in the median from which Herzberg stepped onto the street. It was a crash possibly influenced by impairment. Herzberg tested positive for methamphetamine and marijuana use, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.
In November 2019, the NTSB determined that Vasquez's failure to monitor the road was the probable cause of the crash. Ultimately, the self-driving system in the vehicle was being tested. It required a vigilant driver. But the independent federal agency found the crash occurred amid a lax and inadequate safety culture at Uber detailed in a 78-page report released last year.
Those shortcomings were not enough for Uber itself to face criminal charges. In March 2019, the Yavapai County Attorney's Office determined there was "no basis for criminal liability for the Uber corporation" arising from the crash.
Shortly after the crash, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office referred the case to its northern neighbor because of a potential conflict of interest. Maricopa County officials had previously partnered with Uber on a public-service campaign that encouraged people not to drink and drive.
As for Uber, its self-driving test program has come full circle. Last month, Uber received a permit to deploy its Volvo XC90 test vehicles from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. As of last week, two were operating on the streets of San Francisco. "We look forward to scaling up our efforts in the months ahead and learning from the difficult but informative road conditions that the Bay Area has to offer," an Uber spokesperson said.