Uber Test Driver Was Watching "The Voice" When Self-Driving Car Crashed

Uber Test Driver Was Watching

The Tempe Police Department released late Thursday evening the report on the fatal self-driving vehicle crash that occurred in a Phoenix suburb in March. Driver Rafaela Vasquez was watching The Voice in the minutes prior to the accident, according to police.

Uber has said it's in the middle of a top-to-bottom review of its safety culture, including operating procedures for its vehicle operators, led by former National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart.

Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona the day before the NTSB report was released, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles.

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

If true, the allegations that Uber's safety driver was watching Hulu are harrowing, and Vasquez will likely face prosecution.

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

Uber is beginning to digest the information from the investigation and safety review in order to return to the road as safely as possible, the company said.

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

Ms Vasquez looked up from her phone screen about 0.5 seconds before the crash, said the report, but had been concentrating on her phone for about 5.3 seconds previously.

A preliminary police report released last month found that the auto had about six seconds to react to Herzberg straying into the road, the BBC says.

Uber has shut down its self-driving operation in Arizona. Even if Vasquez was being fully negligent - and the documents do seem to show that - the details about Uber's self-driving test program that have emerged since the crash show that the company bears at least as much responsibility for the fatality as any safety driver, negligent or not. 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.

In the almost 22 minutes leading up to the crash, Vasquez wasn't looking at the road for six and a half of them ― about 32 percent of the time ― police found.

County Attorney Bill Montgomery had the case transferred to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office to avoid any conflicts of interest.

The spokesperson added that any physical mobile device usage while the vehicle is on the road is a fireable offense.

Both Vasquez and Uber could still face civil liability in the case, Uber for potentially negligent hiring, training and supervision, said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of SC law professor who closely follows autonomous vehicles.

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