Published: Tue, June 26, 2018
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

Uber driver streaming Hulu prior to deadly self-driving crash in Tempe

Uber driver streaming Hulu prior to deadly self-driving crash in Tempe

Uber is now conducting an internal safety review and has brought in former National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Christopher Hart to advise the company on its overall safety culture.

While the report reveals the actions of the safety driver, questions are still swirling around Uber's self-driving technology system in the modified Volvo XC90.

A photo from the police report show's the self-driving Uber's front-end damage after the fatal crash. The Arizona Republic reported that the driver was watching “The Voice, ” a television musical talent show.

Tempe police are looking at a vehicular manslaughter charge in the crash, according to a March 19 affidavit filed to get a search warrant for audio, video and data stored in the Uber SUV.

Police have also noted that Vasquez's eyes were off the road for more than 6 minutes (3.67 miles) of the 11.8 mile test drive. Her face "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". The report said that she looked down 166 times while the vehicle was in motion, frequently looking in the direction of her right knee.

An Uber spokeswoman announced the company was undergoing a "top-to-bottom safety review" last month. The investigation has revealed that she looked up half a second before the crash, after nearly 6 seconds of looking down.

"We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review", an Uber spokesperson told Quartz. The Uber self-driving program was suspended after the fatality and the Arizona program shut down.

A report from the Tempe, Ariz., police obtained by Reuters through a Freedom of Information Act request described the crash as "entirely avoidable". She was looking down for 5.2 of the final 5.7 seconds prior to the crash, the report says. Video of a deadly self-driving vehicle crash in suburban Phoenix shows the pedestrian walking from a darkened area onto a street just moments before the crash.

While Tempe Police initially said Uber was "likely" not at fault in the accident, they didn't rule out the possibility of future charges against the backup driver.

Rafaela Vasquez, who at the time went by Rafael and had not transitioned to female, was streaming The Voice on Hulu when she ran into Elaine Herzberg with the Volvo vehicle, as she was crossing the street at an unmarked area.

The crash dealt Uber a major setback in its efforts to develop self-driving cars, and the company shuttered its autonomous auto testing program in Arizona after the incident. The ride-hailing company's specially outfitted Volvo was deliberately being tested on public roads without its emergency braking system turned on, the agency said.

That promises to stop or significantly slow the SUV - depending on its speed at the time - if a pedestrian is spotted in the road ahead, even if the driver themselves doesn't hit the brakes. The Maricopa County Attorney's Office referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney's Office because of a conflict.

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