- A report from the Tempe, AZ Police Department has found the safety driver in the fatal autonomous Uber crash earlier this year was distracted by streaming video, according to Reuters and others.
- The report says the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, looked down for more than six minutes of the 22-minute trip, with records indicating she was watching NBC talent show “The Voice” on streaming service Hulu. She stopped streaming right after the crash, according to Ars Technica.
- Police described the crash, which resulted in the death of Elaine Herzberg as she crossed the street at night, as “entirely avoidable,” according to multiple reports. Vasquez may face prosecution for vehicular manslaughter.
These findings from the local police department shed more light on this tragic incident and follow just months after a separate investigation found the software in the autonomous vehicle (AV) was at fault for failing to detect Herzberg as she crossed the street. Video released at the time showed the safety driver not paying attention, and only realizing the car was about to crash into Herzberg at the last moment.
And based on the police report’s findings, it shows the importance of making sure safety drivers are fully engaged with the AV they are helping test and devoid of any distractions. Ars Technica notes the report says Vasquez looked down 166 times while the vehicle was in motion, including on one occasion just over five seconds before the crash, and only looking up less than a second before.
That contradicts what Vasquez told National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators in an interview after the crash, when she said she had been “monitoring the self-driving system interface,” per the NTSB report, and not using either of her cell phones until after the crash. Any future prosecution is unclear — a spokeswoman for the Yavapai County Attorney’s Office told Reuters that any criminal proceedings are under review.
Many people, including elected officials, have emphasized AVs will make car travel safer as the tech vastly reduces human error, which is the major cause of crashes. But AV safety remains a going concern, with this crash having led to public testing being suspended by Toyota and in Boston. At the Meeting of the Minds Mobility Summit in Ann Arbor, MI, speakers said companies must do their due diligence, even on areas including their safety drivers.