Self-Driving Uber Crash 'Avoidable,' Driver's Phone Playing Video Before Woman Struck

Uber driver was streaming Hulu show before fatal self-driving crash

The safety driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber auto in Tempe, Arizona, was streaming a television show on her phone until about the time of a fatal crash, according to a police report that deemed the March 18 incident "entirely avoidable".

Vasquez looked up just 0.5 seconds before the crash, after keeping her head down for 5.3 seconds, the Tempe Police report said.

The crash killed Elaine Herzberg, a 49-year-old woman who was walking across the street when she was hit by the self-driving vehicle. A pedestrian pushing a bicycle walked into the road partway along a block between intersections, and the vehicle failed to swerve or stop in time to avoid a collision.

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 318-page report found that Rafaela Vasquez, the 44-year-old driver, was frequently looking down and even smiling and laughing at what appears to be a cellphone streaming an episode of the talent search show, The Voice. Her stream ended at 9:59 pm, around the same time Elaine Herzberg, 49, was hit by the Uber, which was in self-driving mode, the report said.

We've seen this before - drivers using semi-autonomous or almost autonomous features in cars start looking away from the road, going on their phones, and watching much more entertaining things like TV shows and movies.

After the crash, the ride-hailing company said it did a top-to-bottom safety evaluation, reviewing internal processes and safety culture. The company prohibits the use of any mobile device by safety drivers while the self-driving cars are on a public road, and drivers are told they can be fired for violating this rule. Despite this new information surrounding the tragedy, officials are still deciding whether or not they will charge the driver.

Uber immediately halted public testing of its self-driving vehicles following the crash.

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The incident led Uber to pull its fleet of self-driving cars off the streets of Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

Tempe police also released blurred video from the responding police officers' body cameras, and one caught a conversation with Vasquez while she was seated behind the wheel, according to the newspaper.

In fact, the investigation revealed, Vasquez was looking down for 31 percent of the 21 minutes and 48 seconds before the crash, the report states.

Use of a mobile device while an autonomous vehicle is moving is a fireable offense, and "this is emphasized on an ongoing basis", the statement said.

Attempts to reach Vasquez for comment were unsuccessful.

The Yavapai County Attorney's Office hasn't set a deadline for deciding whether to bring charges, said Penny Cramer, assistant to County Attorney Sheila Polk. Video recordings don't show what she's doing with her hands. "We plan to share more on the changes we'll make to our program soon". The operator of the vehicle was supposed to be watching the road and dealing with emergencies.

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