Published: Mon, June 25, 2018
Worldwide | By Angelina Lucas

Uber driver was watching Hulu when self-driving vehicle killed pedestrian

Uber driver was watching Hulu when self-driving vehicle killed pedestrian

Arizona police called a fatal vehicle accident involving a self-driving Uber in March "entirely avoidable", according to a new 318-page report released by authorities in Tempe on Friday.

The Tempe police report says that distraction was a factor in the crash that killed the pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg.

One of those providers, Hulu, later provided a record of usage on one of Vasquez's phones that showed she was watching "The Voice, " a talent competition show on NBC, right before the collision.

Her face "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down", a review video from inside the vehicle showed, according to police.

Ms Herzberg, who had been walking her bike, died from her injuries in hospital. Given the speed of the auto at the time, it could have traveled for more than 300 feet without Vasquez checking the road.

Police have not made any decisions on prosecution, but Vasquez could face charges for vehicular manslaughter. Investigators concluded the fatal accident would have been "entirely avoidable" had driver Rafaela Vasquez not been distracted.

It streamed the show up until 9.59pm, which "coincides with the approximate time of the collision", the report added.

But here's the thing: even if Vasquez wasn't watching The Voice, police documents also clearly show that Uber's safety procedures were insufficient.

Last month, the Uber spokeswoman said the company was undergoing a "top-to-bottom safety review", and had brought on a former US federal transportation official to help improve its safety culture.

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Uber immediately halted public testing of its self-driving vehicles following the crash. Uber's self-driving Volvo SUV was travelling at slightly less than 44 miles an hour. But Uber always requires that self-driving vehicles have backup drivers on hand in case the autonomous system fails.

Vasquez was instead looking at her phone, glancing up 0.5 seconds before the collision.

Uber had hoped to return its self-driving cars to Pittsburgh's streets by the end of the June.

As police previously said, the vehicle showed no evidence of braking before hitting Herzberg. She told NTSB investigators she was monitoring the self-driving system's interface. Of the almost 22 minutes that elapsed during that distance, Vasquez was looking down for 6 minutes and 47 seconds.

Both Vasquez and Uber have declined to comment on the new evidence.

In a statement issued to The Verge, an Uber spokesperson said the company prohibits its autonomous vehicle operators from using mobile devices while working. She also claimed that neither her personal or business phones were in use at the time of the crash.

Shortly after the crash, police body camera video shows Vasquez telling officers what she saw, which wasn't much.

Uber has hired former National Transportation Safety Board chair Christopher Hart as an adviser on the company's overall safety culture.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney's office because of a conflict, and that office could not be reached late Thursday.

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