Safety driver involved in fatal self-driving Uber crash was watching Hulu

Nellie Chapman
June 23, 2018

Sensors on the Uber Volvo SUV's system had detected Herzberg six seconds before the impact and recognized that it was going to crash 1.3 seconds prior, according to a preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The backup driver in an autonomous Uber vehicle was distracted, and a Hulu video was playing on her phone, before the auto struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, police determined.

Records from the driver's Hulu account reveal that the individual in question had been watching the hit NBC singing competition for roughly 42 minutes before the crash commenced.

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 operator of the Volvo SC90, Rafaela Vasquez, 44, passed a field sobriety test after the crash, according to police, but records obtained from Hulu indicate Vasquez's phone was playing an episode of The Voice and the stream ended at 9:59 p.m. The crash occurred about 10 p.m.

The company prohibits the use of any mobile device by safety drivers while the self-driving cars are on a public road.

According to the report, Vasquez initially gave officers a bad address.

"You guys know as well as I know that this is going to be an worldwide story", the police supervisor says.

At the time of the accident, Vasquez had both business and personal phones in the vehicle.

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After the crash, the ride-hailing company said it did a top-to-bottom safety evaluation, reviewing internal processes and safety culture.

The Maricopa County Attorney's Office was last reported to have referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office.

As police previously said, the vehicle showed no evidence of braking before hitting Herzberg.

Analysis of dashcam video, police said, concluded that Vasquez looked down for 31 percent of the almost 22 minutes she was in the driver's seat before the crash.

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 report released Thursday details the death of 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg the nation's first fatal crash involving a pedestrian and a self-driving vehicle. They found no signs that she'd been texting, or talking with anyone, but they did notice three video apps one on of her phones that could've been drawing her attention-Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. Uber's policy is to ban any use of mobile devices by the safety driver while its autonomous vehicles are on public roads.

The NTSB released its report one day removed from Uber announcing that it would end its self-driving operations in Arizona and lay off around 300 employees connected to the program. The police report faulted her for "unlawfully crossing the road at a location other than a marked crosswalk".

"This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and the roadway conditions and was not distracted", investigators wrote.

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