The Tempe, Arizona Police Department has released a 318-page report on a fatal accident involving a self-driving Uber car in March. The news is not good for Uber or the test driver who was sitting behind the wheel in case of an accident. After collecting records in the course of its investigation, the police department now believes the driver was watching Hulu instead of paying attention to the road at the time of the incident.
A self-driving car is eventually supposed to actually drive itself, but no one is willing to take that risk yet. All the companies testing these technologies have humans riding along, usually in the driver’s seat. Only Waymo (an Alphabet company and former Google unit) has humans monitoring the system from elsewhere in the car. Uber employs drivers to sit behind the wheel and take over in the event of an emergency. That’s what Rafaela Vasquez was supposed to be doing on March 18th when the modified Volvo XC90 struck and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg.
You’ve probably seen the video released by Tempe police, but it’s available below. It’s hard to tell precisely what happened from that footage. The pedestrian walked across in the middle of the street rather than at a crosswalk, and only appears in a few frames of video before being hit. However, police have determined the collision was “entirely avoidable.”
Tempe Police Vehicular Crimes Unit is actively investigating
the details of this incident that occurred on March 18th. We will provide updated information regarding the investigation once it is available. pic.twitter.com/2dVP72TziQ
— Tempe Police (@TempePolice) March 21, 2018
At the time of the accident, Vasquez had both business and personal phones in the car. Police noted several streaming video apps were installed on both and requested records from the companies. That’s how they determined that Vasquez had spent the 40 minutes before the crash watching an episode of The Voice on Hulu. The streaming session ended at roughly the same time as the vehicle hit Elaine Herzberg.
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. Vasquez claimed after the accident to have been checking self-driving car data on the instrument panel. That claim is now highly suspect. In addition, Uber’s system detected the pedestrian, but did not attempt to stop. Uber had disabled the auto-braking feature as part of the test.
Police have not made any decisions on prosecution, but Vasquez could face charges for vehicular manslaughter. Uber, meanwhile, has ended its self-driving car tests in Arizona. It continues testing the vehicles in other markets like San Francisco and Pittsburgh.