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Uber driver 'distracted' by streaming 'The Voice' in fatal crash

25 June, 2018, 07:40 | Author: Ted Wilson
  • Elaine Herzberg was wheeling her bike across the road when she was hit by the Volvo which was being driven by Rafaela Vasquez

The safety driver in Uber's autonomous vehicle that killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona earlier this year was watching Hulu on her phone right up to the crash, local police claim.

In it, police point to evidence suggesting the human safety driver, Rafaela Vasquez, had been distracted by streaming video on her phone.

Forty-nine-year-old Elaine Herzberg was struck as she walked across a darkened street in the middle of a block. The self-driving system first classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, then as a vehicle and then as a bicycle.

The report says Vasquez initially told police she had her hands "hovering" in front of the steering wheel preparing to take over control of the vehicle.

In it, Vasquez can clearly be seen looking down at something just before impact. The report said that she looked down 166 times while the vehicle was in motion, frequently looking in the direction of her right knee.

The Uber auto was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, but the company, like other self-driving vehicle developers, requires a back-up driver inside to intervene when the autonomous system fails or a tricky driving situation occurs. The vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision. But the system is not created to alert the driver.

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.

Ms Herzberg, who had been walking her bike, died from her injuries in hospital.

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This image made from video Sunday, March 18, 2018, of a mounted camera provided by the Tempe Police Department shows an exterior view moments before an Uber SUV hit a woman in Tempe, Ariz.

"The vehicle was in auto-drive", Vasquez, 44, said. She claims she didn't see Herzberg until impact. "I know I hit her". She was looking down for 5.2 of the final 5.7 seconds prior to the crash, the report says. Once they tracked her down, investigators obtained search warrants for her two cell phones.

The Tempe police report said that during the drive, Vasquez "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". According to the report, she watched for about 42 minutes, ending at 9:59 p.m., which "coincides with the approximate time of the collision". Of the almost 22 minutes that elapsed during that distance, Vasquez was looking down for 6 minutes and 47 seconds.

The crash occurred about 10 p.m.

Uber immediately halted public testing of its self-driving vehicles following the crash. Her "disregard for assigned job function to intervene in a hazardous situation" contributed to the crash, the newspaper reported.

"We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review". 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. "We plan to share more on the changes we'll make to our programme soon".

Earlier this year, Uber said it employs about 400 human safety drivers like Vasquez across various cities.



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