Uber Backup Driver Watched ‘The Voice’ Before Autonomous Vehicle Killed Pedestrian, Police Say


Various transportation companies have been building fleets of self-driving cars. However, there are growing perils behind this rapid growth of autonomous vehicles.

A Streaming Situation

Tempe, Arizona, police officials released their findings to an investigation where an Uber self-driving car fatally hit 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg this past March. On Thursday, June 21, law enforcement officials noted that the vehicle's backup driver, Rafaela Vasquez, streamed an episode of the NBC singing competition The Voice on Hulu, while the Uber vehicle was on its self-driving mode. Based on video from the Uber autonomous vehicle's interior, police noted that Vasquez repeatedly focused her eyes between the road and her LG smartphone.

The Tempe Police Department requested specific information from Hulu regarding Vasquez's streaming activities. The video streaming service notified investigators that Vasquez streamed the show's "The Blind Auditions, Part 5" between 9:16 p.m. to 9:59 p.m. The National Transportation Safety Board, which also took part in this investigation, revealed that the autonomous vehicle hit Herzberg around 9:58 p.m.

The Investigation Results

The 318-page report stated that NTSB investigators spoke with Vasquez and asked her about the 200 times that she exchanged her glance between her smartphone and the road. Vasquez denied that she used her smartphones until after the crash occurred, and she called 911. The Tempe Police Department concluded that this accident could have been avoided.

It was noted that the self-driving vehicle was driving 44 miles per hour before the crash and that Vasquez looked at the car nearly 0.5 seconds before she collided into Herzberg. Officials also cited that Herzberg was also in the wrong because she illegally crossed the road at an area that was not a crosswalk. Due to the consequences of this accident, Arizona governor Doug Ducey asked the state's department of transportation to ban Uber's testing of self-driving vehicles.

An Uber spokesperson revealed to Tech Times that any physical mobile device usage or interaction while vehicles are in motion on public roads is a fireable offense. The company is also doing a top-to-bottom safety assessment and reviewing internal processes that influence Uber's overall safety culture. They have also welcomed former NTSB Chair Christopher Hart to advise them on their overall safety culture.

"We continue to cooperate fully with ongoing investigations while conducting our own internal safety review. 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," said the Uber spokesperson.

Uber News

Android Police reported that the Google Maps app on Android does not allow customers to book Uber rides directly. While the Android app still supports the ride-hailing service, users would have to leave Google Maps to book their transportation. Google did not give an official statement about why they made this move. However, technology insiders believe that Google did this due to a $1 billion investment with Uber's top rival, Lyft.

Uber introduced a condensed version of the app to its customers in India. Uber Lite is 5 MB and will allow users to have room for personal videos and photos. The app is for Android phones and would help its users book their trips more efficiently. It would also help customers who have slow internet speeds and limited data plans.

Tech Times reached out to Uber for a comment on this story.

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