Uber driver streaming "The Voice" just before deadly crash

Geneva Stokes
June 25, 2018

An Arizona police report says the backup driver in an Uber autonomous SUV was streaming a television show on Hulu just before the vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in March.

According to the spreadsheet of watch data from Hulu, Vasquez was streaming television episodes for approximately three hours the night of the crash.

Police said video from inside the auto showed Vasquez was looking down during the trip, and her face "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". Herzberg was not walking in a designated crosswalk.

The system is disabled while Uber's autonomous cars are under computer control, "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior", the NTSB report said.

Streaming service Hulu reportedly shared records with cops that showed Vasquez's account was being used to stream the talent show on the night of the crash, stopping at 21:59.

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.

A spokeswoman last month said the company was undergoing a "top-to-bottom safety review". 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. Uber employs drivers to sit behind the wheel and take over in the event of an emergency.

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

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Uber's self-driving system initially misidentified the 49-year-old victim, Elaine Herzberg, as a vehicle when she was pushing a bike across a dark thoroughfare, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

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.

The fatality prompted the ride-hailing giant to suspend all road testing of self-driving vehicles in areas including Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

After reviewing the evidence, police concluded that the accident was "entirely avoidable". She confirmed that she was looking away from the road, but told federal investigators that she was still monitoring the car's self-driving functions.

"The vehicle was in auto-drive", Rafaela Vasquez, 44, is heard telling police on an officer's body camera.

During nine video segments obtained from the vehicle's dashcam, Vasquez looked down 204 times. "We plan to share more on the changes we'll make to our program soon", an Uber spokesperson said in an email.

Uber declined to comment on the police report. Former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart is now a safety consultant for Uber. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office because of a conflict.

This is the latest development in the ongoing investigation into the fatal crash. Her job was to look at the road and prepare for any emergencies, Uber confirmed.

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