Self-driving cars are a focus of heavy investment, research, and development for many companies, and ridesharing giant Uber is no exception. An accident involving one of their cars caused the death of a woman in Tempe, Arizona. The headlines, and the surrounding circumstances, have drawn global attention.
According to The Arizona Republic, the accident occurred late in the evening as Elaine Herzberg entered a crosswalk and was subsequently struck by an Uber vehicle under the command of its onboard computer. The driver stationed in the vehicle to override the machine to prevent such accidents did not take control, nor did the vehicle apply emergency braking.
The reason for the vehicle's failure to detect Herzberg is not yet known. Uber immediately suspended its self-driving program and pledged to undertake a full investigation, but most public scrutiny has fallen on the driver of the vehicle, Rafaela Vasquez.
Though her criminal record was found under a different name, her felony conviction for attempted armed robbery in 2000 was no secret to Uber. The company points out that it requires all its contractors, for both ridesharing and self-driving research, to pass a background check provided by a third party. These checks include records on the federal, local, and state levels, like the nationwide US OneSEARCH service and state record checks provided by backgroundchecks.com.
While Uber was aware of Vasquez's conviction, the company claims it believes in providing felons with the opportunity to seek employment if their records do not include certain convictions such as violent crimes or child endangerment. Discrepancies between Uber's hiring policies and state laws governing rideshares, including regulations in neighboring Colorado, have led to multi-million-dollar fines for the business. Arizona has no such laws on the books.
The furor surrounding Vasquez and the accident led the Arizona Republic to publish an editorial discussing the disproportionate focus paid to her conviction versus the potential technological failures. The main question proposed by the editorial: what real relevance did her conviction have to the job at hand? This ties into one of the primary recommendations that often accompanies ban the box laws and other fair employment guidelines: consider whether an individual's conviction truly relates to the job at hand.
The circumstances of Vasquez's conviction, considering the nearly two decades that have elapsed since her incarceration, would not seem to be a barrier to operating a self-driving car. As reports note, it was not a criminal tendency that led to the accident. Individuals with criminal histories can consider sealing their records with backgroundchecks.com's MyClearStart service. As many states prohibit inquiries into sealed or expunged records, it can be an important step on the path to achieving reliable employment after a conviction.