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Records Show Uber Operator Was Watching ‘The Voice’ at Time Self-Driving Car Fatally Hit Woman


Months after a 49-year-old woman was struck and killed in Arizona by a self-driving Uber vehicle, we’re learned that the operator of that vehicle was watching The Voice at the time of the fatal crash.

According to Reuters, police records of information obtained from Hulu showed that The Voice played for about 42 minutes until 9:59 p.m., which “coincides with the approximate time of the collision” that resulted in the death of Elaine Herzberg. Herzberg was crossing the street.

In the video above you can see that the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, is looking down as the car motors along on its own. She reacts with shock when she realizes someone is about to get hit.

Uber stopped the self-driving car initiative it had going after the crash and reached a settlement with the family of the deceased. Vasquez’s fate remains uncertain. The police report from Thursday noted that it is possible Vasquez could face a vehicular manslaughter charge

Previously, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a summary of its findings about the crash. The NTSB said that the 44-year-old operator of a 2017 Volvo XC90, Vasquez, had to “intervene and take action” by emergency braking because the self-driving system doesn’t emergency brake on its own, even though it recognizes emergency braking is needed.

Vasquez looking down and apparently watching The Voice at the time of the crash is relevant here.

The NTSB also said the system recognized an object in the road six seconds before the death of Elaine Herzberg. It wasn’t until 1.3 seconds before Herzberg was hit that the car’s system “determined” that emergency braking was needed. The video of the incident above is 27 seconds long. The 21-second mark of the video shows that the Uber operator’s eyes are off the road and the 27-second mark shows her shock when the car hits and kills Herzberg.

“According to data obtained from the self-driving system, the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about 6 seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling at 43 mph. As the vehicle and pedestrian paths converged, the self-driving system software classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle with varying expectations of future travel path,” the summary said. “At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision. According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator.”

[Image via ABC screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.