Published: Mon, June 25, 2018
Global | By Marsha Munoz

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

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

The safety driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber vehicle 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".

In their report, Tempe Police say Vasquez was responsible for taking control of the vehicle in the event of an emergency.

Vasquez says that the vehicle was in auto drive and that it did not see Herzberg nor did she.

Authorities also noted the self-driving Uber didn't alert operators of when to take control of the vehicle.

According to a report last month by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also investigating the crash, Vasquez told federal investigators she had been monitoring the self-driving interface in the vehicle and that neither her personal phone nor her business phone were in use until after the crash.

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Records from online streaming service Hulu show that Vasquez's account was streaming The Voice on the evening in question, ending at 21:59 - about the time of the crash.

Tempe investigators conducted lighting and road tests to determine whether an average motorist should have seen Elaine Herzberg walking across.

"Um, yes, um, I hit a bicyclist northbound Mill Avenue just south of Curry Road", says Vasquez in the 911 audio. The Volvo XC90 autonomous prototype was traveling at under 44 miles per hour (70 km/h).

The auto, being monitored by backup driver Rafaela Vasquez, slammed into Elaine Herzberg and killed her. Herzberg was walking her bike across Mill Avenue outside of a crosswalk. However, police have determined the collision was "entirely avoidable". That's why Waymo, Google's self-driving vehicle company, has sped ahead.

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. Her eyes were repeatedly trained on the "lower center console near her right knee", police said. Of the almost 22 minutes that elapsed during that distance, Vasquez was looking down for 6 minutes and 47 seconds, the newspaper reported.

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The test driver, Rafaela Vasquez, who was hired by Uber to sit behind the wheel and take over in case of emergencies, had both personal and business phones in the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Prosecutors are considering charges against the driver, 44-year-old Rafaela Vasquez. Asked about the many pages that were blacked-out in the report, Elcock said they mostly consisted of medical records, license plates, addresses and dates of birth. "I'm in, um, an Uber vehicle, um, a Volvo". As of the time of writing, Uber has not commented on the findings. Her job was to look at the road and prepare for any emergencies, Uber confirmed. But officers calculated that had Vasquez been paying attention, she could have reacted 143 feet before impact and brought the SUV to a stop about 42.6 feet before hitting Herzberg.

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

The ride-hailing company permanently suspended its self-driving vehicle research in Arizona following the accident.

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