Self-driving Uber’s backup driver was watching Hulu before fatal crash

26 June, 2018, 20:28 | Author: Donnie King
  • Elaine Herzberg was killed on the night of March 18. She was homeless at the time

Tempe, Arizona, police have released a massive report on the fatal Uber vehicle crash that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in March.

Upon further investigation, and after obtaining records from Hulu, the police determined that Vasquez was streaming "The Voice" for 42 minutes on her phone throughout the night.

Uber is now reviewing its safety precautions and recently hired former National Transportation Safety Board chair Christopher Hart as a safety adviser, the company said in a statement issued to Gizmodo on Friday.

Following the crash, Uber has dealt with a major setback in its aim to develop self-driving cars. The Arizona Republic reported that the driver was watching “The Voice, ” a television musical talent show. Uber prohibits safety drivers from using any mobile device while the self-driving cars are on a public road; drivers are told they can be fired for violating this rule.

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report noted that the test driver said she'd been looking at the self-driving system interface before the crash.

"The vehicle was in auto-drive", Rafaela Vasquez, 44, is heard telling police on an officer's body camera.

Police said a review of video from inside the auto showed Vasquez was looking down during the trip, and her face "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". Video recordings don't show what she's doing with her hands.

After the crash, the ride-hailing company said it did a top-to-bottom safety evaluation, reviewing internal processes and safety culture. She claims she didn't see Herzberg until impact. Uber's video shows the driver looking up a half second before the collision, having been looking down for 5.3 seconds.

"We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review", the company said in a statement.

The local police force in Tempe, AZ, are supposing that the debacle could have been avoided if the test driver had been paying close attention to her surroundings, effectively contradicting the prior belief that the incident was unavoidable.

In the almost 22 minutes leading up to the crash, Vasquez wasn't looking at the road for six and a half of them ― about 32 percent of the time ― police found.

The system is disabled while Uber's autonomous cars are under computer control, "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior", the NTSB report said. Uber's policy is to ban any use of mobile devices by the safety driver while its autonomous vehicles are on public roads.

A fatal Tesla crash in Florida may have involved the driver watching a Harry Potter movie on a portable DVD player while the car's Autopilot mode was engaged.

"The vehicle was in auto-drive", Vasquez says to the officer.

The case has been referred to the County Attorney's Office in nearby Yavapai County, according to Reuters, but officials haven't announced whether Vasquez will face charges. Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said that the pedestrian stepped into the street outside of the crosswalk and was immediately struck by the vehicle.


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