Uber Crash Details Underscore Risks of Self-Driving Car Strategy

National Transportation Safety Board investigators examining the Volvo that was involved in the crash. Vasquez initially told them neither her work nor her personal phone were in use at the time

Police in Tempe, Arizona, said that evidence indicated the "safety" driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber vehicle was distracted and streaming a television show on her smartphone right up until about the time of a fatal accident in March, deeming the crash that rocked the nascent self-driving industry "entirely avoidable".

A log of Vasquez's account provided by the video-streaming service Hulu, under a search warrant, showed "The Voice" was streaming on her account in the final 43 minutes of the drive, and that the streaming ended at 9:59 p.m., the approximate time of the collision, the police report says. Given the findings in this latest report, the likelihood of vehicular manslaughter charges against Vasquez has certainly increased.

Herzberg was crossing the street with her bicycle when she was hit by the Uber on March 19.

In a statement, Uber said it was "cooperating fully" with the continuing investigations while it did its own internal safety review.

"This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted", the report says.

The system relied on the human backup driver to intervene but is not now created to alert the driver of any risky situations.

"I was not able to find anywhere in the literature that the self-driving systems alerts the vehicle operator to potential hazards or when they should take manual control of the vehicle to perform an evasive maneuver", a Tempe detective wrote in the report, according to Gizmodo.




Cody Fleming, assistant professor of systems engineering at the University of Virginia, told me in a conversation about autonomous vehicle levels - Level 0 means no vehicle automation with the driver fully in control; Level 5 is the highest, with the auto able to drive itself in any situation and condition - that humans don't do well with boredom. She claims she didn't see Herzberg until impact.

Vasquez had also told police she had her hands "hovering" over the wheel. "Sometimes, her face appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down".

A camera inside the vehicle pointed at the driver indicated that she didn't look up until half a second before impact.

The lengthy document revealed Uber operator Rafaela Vasquez may have been streaming an episode of The Voice on Hulu during the time of the accident, which killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg.

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.

Last month, an Uber spokeswoman said the company was undergoing a 'top-to-bottom safety review, ' and had brought on a former federal transportation official to help improve the company's safety culture.

Vasquez could be charged criminally, and if there's evidence that Uber or its employees acted recklessly, then charges against them are possible, Smith said. Tempe police Sgt. Ronald Elcock said that the pedestrian stepped into the street outside of the crosswalk and was immediately struck by the vehicle.

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