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Uber Test Driver Was Watching "The Voice" When Self-Driving Car Crashed

24 June 2018

Uber pulled its self-driving cars out of Arizona the day before the NTSB report was released, eliminating the jobs of about 300 people who served as backup drivers and performed other jobs connected to the vehicles.

Following a three-month investigation, the Tempe Police Department has released a 318-page report that claims the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, had been looking down while the vehicle was moving and glanced up only half a second before the crash, Reuters reports.

"The vehicle was in auto-drive", Rafaela Vasquez, 44, is heard telling police on an officer's body camera.

Police observed nine video segments from the Uber's dash-cam which showed Vasquez looking down 204 times "with almost all of them having the same eye placement at the lower center console near the area of her right knee". Hulu, after first mistakenly providing police with data on someone else's account, found Vasquez was watching an episode of the popular NBC talent show The Voice around a minute before the crash, and for much of the preceding hour.

This image shows victim Elaine Herzberg moments before she was killed.

The system is disabled while Uber's cars are under computer control, "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior", the NTSB report said.

Police initially determined that Vasquez was not impaired after giving her a field test.

The safety driver is responsible for seeing warning messages the vehicle displays and reacting accordingly; the NTSB says the self-driving system spotted an emergency braking maneuver was needed "at 1.3 seconds before impact" but that it had been informed by Uber that its system was "not created to alert the operator" in an emergency braking situation.

In the body-cam footage, an officer is seen speaking with Vasquez as she attempts to explain what exactly occurred at the time of the collision. Police have submitted their findings to county prosecutors, who will make the ultimate determination.

Waymo, a Google-affiliated company, and other self-driving vehicle companies continue to test on Arizona roads.

Tempe police spokesman Sergeant Ronald Elcock said the department isn't commenting on the report yet. "Her hands are not visible in the frame of the video during these times". However, she told investigators that she was monitoring the car's self-driving interface and wasn't using either her personal or business phones.

In it, Vasquez can clearly be seen looking down at something just before impact. The news is not good for Uber or the test driver who was sitting behind the wheel in case of an accident.

It suggests she could face charges of vehicle manslaughter.

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. "We plan to share more on the changes we'll make to our program soon", the statement said.

As a result, Arizona suspended Uber's self-driving vehicles from operating within the state: the company also launched an in-depth safety review in order to avoid similar incidents in the future.

Uber Test Driver Was Watching