Autonomous Car

'Safety' Driver Of Driverless Uber Was Streaming TV Before Fatal Crash

This is now a criminal investigation.

The investigation of a March 18, 2018 fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber vehicle in Tempe, Arizona has just taken a new turn, so to speak. According to Reuters, the safety driver behind the wheel of the Uber-marked Volvo XC90 was streaming a TV show, “The Voice, to be exact, on her phone at the time of the crash that killed 49-year old Elaine Herzberg, who crossing the street at night. The Tempe police department has just issued its troubling findings that further explain what happened.

The “safety” driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was looking down at her phone and only looked up at the road merely half a second before the collision. In short, the crash was “entirely avoidable” if Vasquez had been paying attention. Police managed to obtain records from online streaming platform Hulu that clearly showed Vasquez’s account was active for 42 minutes on the night of the crash, and was turned off at exactly 9:59 p.m., which “coincides with the approximate time of the collision,” according to the report. Vasquez looked up from her phone only 0.5 seconds prior the crash after keeping her head down for 5.3 seconds while the vehicle was traveling at 44 mph.

There was also video inside of the vehicle which clearly captured Vasquez’s facial reactions to the TV show, further proof she was distracted. In fact, she was “distracted and looking down” for nearly seven of the 22 minutes prior to the accident. So where does this leave things? First off, Vasquez could now face manslaughter charges, but that decision will be ultimately determined by county prosecutors. These findings, however, clearly contradict what Vasquez initially told investigators, stating she had been monitoring the self-driving interface inside the vehicle and that neither her of her phones, business and personal, were being used until after the crash.

Initial reports found that Uber disabled the Volvo XC90’s emergency braking system, and that Vasquez only hit the brakes less than a second before the crash. Uber has since ceased its autonomous car testing program in Arizona, but plans to get it up and running again in different states later this summer. Although a settlement has already been reached with Herzberg’s family, the fact that this is now a potential criminal investigation could make a difficult situation even worse for Uber.

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