The California-based ride-sharing company Uber has been harshly criticized for not having an adequate safety plan in place during autonomous vehicle testing in a series of documents from the National Transportation Safety Board. A 49-year-old woman was struck and killed in March 2018 by an Uber SUV that was being used to evaluate self-driving technology in Arizona. The documents were released by the NTSB on Nov. 5.
According to the NTSB, Uber was aware of the safety risks when the woman was killed because their self-driving vehicles had already been involved in dozens of crashes. An investigation into the accident revealed that the equipment being tested by Uber was not able to react and take evasive action when pedestrians stepped into the roadway. Uber stopped evaluating its autonomous technology shortly after the accident, but testing resumed in December 2018.
The NTSB has scheduled a Nov. 19 hearing to determine the probable cause of the fatal pedestrian accident. The more than 400 documents released by the agency suggest that Uber executives will face some difficult questions. The documents paint a picture of a company that did not take safety concerns seriously and appointed unqualified individuals to fill crucial roles. However, the company is unlikely to face severe sanctions as the prosecutor handling the case has stated that she does not intend to pursue criminal cases against Uber or any of its employees.
Individuals or organizations may be held responsible in civil court for negligent behavior that causes harm even when criminal prosecutors decline to pursue the matter. Experienced personal injury attorneys could explain to accident victims that civil cases are based on the preponderance of the evidence, which means that plaintiffs only have to convince juries that their account of the events in question are more likely true than not.