Arizona Uber crash driver was 'watching TV'


According to a report from Tempe, Arizona, police, the human backup driver in Uber's self-driving vehicle was watching television before the auto struck and killed a pedestrian.

The detailed report of more than 300 pages was released by Tempe police Thursday night, along with video and photos from the scene of the March 18 collision. According to police, she "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". The woman had been walking her bike in the dark across the two-lane road, far from a crosswalk, and was hit just before she made it to the sidewalk.

If true, the allegations that Uber's safety driver was watching Hulu are harrowing, and Vasquez will likely face prosecution.

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board's preliminary report noted that the test driver said she'd been looking at the self-driving system interface before the crash.

Police discovered that Uber's driver, Rafaela Vasquez, had been watching "The Voice" on Hulu for approximately 42 minutes before the crash, according to a police report obtained by Reuters. Her stream ended at 9:59 pm, around the same time Elaine Herzberg, 49, was hit by the Uber, which was in self-driving mode, the report said.

A previously released video of the crash showed Vasquez looking down just before the crash. The company is reviewing internal processes, including its safety driver training practices. Uber employs drivers to sit behind the wheel and take over in the event of an emergency.

The pictures also show front-end damage to the Uber vehicle. Uber's self-driving Volvo SUV was travelling at slightly less than 44 miles an hour.

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.

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The report says police initially determined that Vasquez was not impaired after giving her a field test.

Uber originally launched its self-driving cars onto the streets of Pittsburgh back in September 2016.

According to a report last month by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is also investigating the crash, Vasquez told federal investigators she had been monitoring the self-driving interface in the vehicle and that neither her personal nor business phones were in use until after the crash.

Attempts to reach Vasquez for comment were unsuccessful. She also claimed that neither her personal or business phones were in use at the time of the crash. Of the almost 22 minutes that elapsed during that distance, Vasquez was looking down for 6 minutes and 47 seconds.

Shortly after the crash, police body camera video shows Vasquez telling officers what she saw, which wasn't much.

For its part, Uber prohibits the use of mobile devices by safety drivers while on the road. "We plan to share more on the changes we'll make to our program soon", an Uber spokesperson said in an email.

The Yavapai County Attorney's Office hasn't set a deadline for deciding whether to bring charges, said Penny Cramer, assistant to County Attorney Sheila Polk.

This is the latest development in the ongoing investigation into the fatal crash.