Uber Driver Was Streaming Hulu Just Before Self-Driving Crash

Jun 22, 2018

The backup safety driver of the Uber self-driving vehicle that struck and killed a pedestrian in March was watching a TV show on her phone right up until the fatal crash, a police report on the incident released Thursday says.

The crash report, released from the police department in Tempe, Arizona, says the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was repeatedly looking down at her phone while monitoring the self-driving car. She only looked up a half-second before the vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk.

Records from streaming service Hulu obtained by the Tempe Police Department show that Vasquez was streaming the TV show “The Voice” for 42 minutes leading up to the crash. Vasquez stopped the show at 9:59pm, which the report says “coincides with the approximate time of the collision.”

Video from inside the vehicle reviewed by police shows Vasquez continually glancing down at her phone while monitoring the vehicle. Vasquez had previously told investigators for the National Transportation Safety Board that she had not been on her personal or business cell phone until after the crash occurred.

Tempe Police say the crash could have been “entirely avoidable” if Vasquez’s eyes had been on the road. As a result, she could potentially be charged with vehicular manslaughter. Prosecutors in Maricopa County are still examining whether to bring charges against Vasquez. Earlier investigations have also shown that the vehicle’s autonomous system did not detect and register Herzberg as an object in the road to avoid.

Uber requires a backup safety driver to monitor its vehicles that are in self-driving mode. Although the car was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, federal investigators have found that Uber had disabled the emergency brakes in the self-driving car, and less than a second after hitting Herzberg, Vasquez began manually braking.

In the wake of the crash, believed to be the first of its kind involving a self-driving vehicle, Uber’s autonomous vehicle program is struggling to survive. The ride-sharing company voluntarily paused its self-driving operations in all cities directly after the crash. Shortly after, the state of Arizona revoked the company’s ability to test its autonomous vehicles in the state, which was once a tentpole location for the startup’s self-driving program. Uber also let its self-driving permit lapse in California following the fatal incident.

At the end of May, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that once safety tests are completed on the self-driving cars, the company plans to relaunch the autonomous program in coming days, noting that Uber self-driving vehicles “will get back on the road over the summer.”

H/T: Reuters

Featured image by JasonDoiy/Getty Images.

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