‘Driver’ of Uber’s Self-Driving Car That Killed Pedestrian Was Watching Hulu During Accident

In March, an Uber test vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona while operating in “autonomous mode.” The pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, was crossing the street outside of a crosswalk when she was struck, and Uber announced that it would suspend all of its self-driving vehicles in cities where they were operating.

According to a 318-page report released by the Tempe Police Department last week, the vehicle’s operator, Rafaela Vasquez, was allegedly watching Hulu on her phone at the time of the accident, and police have deemed the crash “entirely avoidable.”

Avoidable Accidents

Reuters reported that police obtained records from the online service which showed Vasquez was playing the show “The Voice” for around 40 minutes the night of the crash. Vasquez allegedly stopped watching at 9:59 p.m., which “coincides with the approximate time of the collision,” according to the report. Police also say that Vasquez repeatedly looked down instead of watching the road (she “was distracted and looking down” for close to seven of the nearly 22 minutes prior to the collision, according to the report) only glanced up a half second before the car hit Herzberg, who had been crossing the street with her bicycle.

Tempe Police submitted their findings to local prosecutors, who may file criminal charges, including vehicular manslaughter, against Vasquez. The report also faulted Herzberg for “unlawfully crossing the road at a location other than a marked crosswalk.”

Wrongful Death

Vasquez and Uber may also face wrongful death claims in the case. Vasquez was unavailable for comment, according to Reuters, and Uber claimed last month that the company was undergoing a “top-to-bottom safety review.”

“We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review,” an Uber spokeswoman said. “We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles. We plan to share more on the changes we’ll make to our program soon.”

Herzberg was the first non-driver fatality following an accident involving an autonomous car. Three drivers, all in Tesla Autopilot vehicles, have been killed in crashes since 2016.

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