Uber safety driver was watching TV moments before fatal collision

Hugh Fox
June 26, 2018

Police said Uber driver Rafaela Vasquez was repeatedly looking down and not at the road and only glanced up in the instant right before her vehicle struck Herzberg. Hulu, however, said she was streaming an episode of The Voice just before the crash occurred. A few days after the crash, police obtained a search warrant for Vasquez's two cellphones and served warrants on three companies that provide streaming services - Hulu, Netflix and Google, which owns YouTube - in an effort to determine if the driver had been watching shows on her phones while driving. Uber also said it brought in former transportation safety board chairman Christopher Hart to advise the company on safety.

The Uber driver of a self-driving vehicle was streaming the TV talent show The Voice immediately before a fatal accident, a police report has found. Instead, the NTSB report highlighted, "the developmental self-driving system relies on an attentive operator to intervene if the system fails to perform appropriately during testing". The Arizona Republic reported that the driver was watching “The Voice, ” a television musical talent show. The new report says Vasquez told police she'd been driving without her hands on the wheel, or feet on the pedals.

"Sometimes, her face appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down", the report said. Then, she told investigators that neither her personal nor work phones had been in use at the time. The company now says it will happen sometime this summer, indicating the top-to-bottom safety review and investigation into the Tempe crash is taking longer than expected.

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In a span of 11.8 miles behind the wheel, Vasquez is said to have looked down 204 times toward her right knee and that in those 22 minutes she had her head down for almost 7 minutes.

An Uber spokeswoman said in a prepared statement Friday morning that the company is cooperating with investigations while it does an internal safety review.

The Uber vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, but Uber, like other self-driving auto developers, requires a back-up driver in the auto to intervene when the autonomous system fails or a tricky driving situation occurs. Video of a deadly self-driving vehicle crash in suburban Phoenix shows the pedestrian walking from a darkened area onto a street just moments before the crash. Police said Vasquez "was distracted and looking down" for 31 percent of the almost 22 minutes before the crash, including 5.2 of the last 5.7 seconds.

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Uber has shut down its self-driving operation in Arizona. Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said that the pedestrian stepped into the street outside of the crosswalk and was immediately struck by the vehicle.

Tempe police have referred the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for possible charges.

Watch video of Uber self-driving vehicle accident in Arizona.

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"This tragedy was entirely avoidable because Uber never should have put such an incapable vehicle on the road in the first place".

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