Published: Tue, June 26, 2018
Worldwide | By Stella Potter

Uber driver was streaming Hulu just before fatal self-driving auto crash

Uber driver was streaming Hulu just before fatal self-driving auto crash

A 318-page report from the Tempe Police Department, released late on Thursday in response to a public records request, said that the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, repeatedly looked down and not at the road, glancing up just a half-second before the vehicle hit Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was crossing the street at night. Those records showed that Vasquez was streaming "The Voice" on the night of the crash, and was watching it until 9:59pm local time.

The police department accessed Vasquez's account for the streaming service Hulu, where they discovered that she had been watching The Voice for 42 minutes prior to the accident, The Verge says.

While the report reveals the actions of the safety driver, questions are still swirling around Uber's self-driving technology system in the modified Volvo XC90.

Following the crash, Uber has dealt with a major setback in its aim to develop self-driving cars.

It prompted suspicions that the safety driver was otherwise occupied, and that led police to obtain records from Hulu, Reuters reports.

At the wheel at the time, however, was Uber safety driver Rafaela Vasquez. As an NTSB report on the crash showed, Uber's safety drivers were charged with monitoring the self-driving system through a tablet in the vehicle as well as monitoring the road, institutionalizing the same kind of staring-at-a-screen distraction that Vasquez was seemingly doing on her own.

Police have also noted that Vasquez's eyes were off the road for more than 6 minutes (3.67 miles) of the 11.8 mile test drive.

Vasquez was looking away from the road for long stretches in the time before the crash, according to an internal video showing her that was released by police.

A spokeswoman last month said the company was undergoing a "top-to-bottom safety review".

A camera inside the vehicle pointed at the driver indicated that she didn't look up until half a second before impact.

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.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey later suspended Uber from testing its self-driving cars in Arizona.

In a statement emailed to PCMag, an Uber spokesperson said the company has a "strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles".

You've probably seen the video released by Tempe police, but it's available below.

Maricopa County prosecutors will make the ultimate decision on whether or not to charge her.

Police say Vasquez called 911 immediately after the crash and a field-sobriety test conducted at the scene determined Vasquez was not impaired.

Piecing together the NTSB's timeline with data released by Hulu reveals that Vasquez had been streaming Hulu for all but three minutes of her 45-minute drive in a Volvo XC90 crossover SUV fitted with Uber's prototype self-driving auto technology.

Tempe police have recommended charges against Vasquez, citing a "disregard for assigned job function to intervene in a hazardous situation", noting Herzberg's death could have been avoided.

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