Police say driver in self-driving Uber was watching "The Voice" before fatal crash


Uber self-driving prototype in San Francisco

Uber self-driving prototype in San Francisco

According to a report from Tempe, Arizona, police, the human backup driver in Uber's self-driving car was watching television before the car struck and killed a pedestrian.

Rafaela Vasquez, the human driver behind the wheel of the self-driving Volvo XC90, was streaming "The Voice" via the Hulu app on her smartphone in the moments before the fatal crash. 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.

Data from Hulu showed Vasquez was streaming "The Voice" for about 42 minutes. Streaming ended around 9:59 pm, which is about the time self-driving car struck pedestrian Elaine Herzberg, who was walking a bicycle across the dark road. Herzberg was not using a designated crosswalk.

Per the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) preliminary report, Uber's lidar and radar spotted Herzberg a full 6 seconds before impact. At 1.3 seconds until impact, the system determined evasive action was required. At 1 second before impact, Vasquez took control of the steering wheel. She did not apply the brakes until after the collision. An interior-mounted camera showed the backup driver didn't look up from her phone until half a second before the impact.

Volvo has not been implicated in any investigation because Uber had disabled the XC90's factory-installed automatic emergency braking software.

Uber has since grounded its fleet of self-driving cars, and Arizona has blocked Uber from testing its self-driving cars on the state's public roads. Arizona, of course, is where Waymo plans to start a commercial self-driving taxi service this year. Despite the series of events, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in May that the company will begin testing self-driving cars again "in a few months."

The ride-sharing company has also performed a "top-to-bottom" safety review at its Advance Technologies Group in Pittsburgh.

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