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Uber Fatality Now Deemed “Entirely Avoidable”

Safety driver was watching television right before crash.

by on Jun.22, 2018

The Tempe (Arizona) Police Department released the video footage of Uber's collision with a pedestrian.

After initially faulting the pedestrian killed in a crash with an autonomous Uber car in March, the Tempe (Arizona) Police Department is calling the collision “entirely avoidable” after determining the safety driver was streaming Hulu on her phone while behind the wheel.

According to the department’s 318-page report, the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, was watching a television show on her phone for 5.3 seconds prior to looking up and seeing 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg crossing the road in front of her.

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Vasquez applied the brakes just 0.5 seconds before the collision. The report says that Vasquez could be charged with vehicular manslaughter. She was watching the television show “The Voice” for 42 minutes with it ending at 9:59 p.m., which is about the time that Herzberg was struck.

Police said the video from inside the Uber shows Vasquez looking down during the trip, and her face “appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down.” The report found that Vasquez “was distracted and looking down” for close to seven of the nearly 22 minutes prior to the collision.

(Uber shutting down self-driving operations in Arizona. Click Here for the story.)

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi shut down the company's autonomous vehicle testing operations in Arizona.

It is not clear if Vasquez will be charged, and police submitted their findings to county prosecutors, who will make the determination, according to Reuters. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office referred the case to the Yavapai County Attorney’s office because of a conflict.

In addition to the Tempe Police Department’s query, the National Safety Transportation Board launched its own investigation. Uber has since hired a former federal transportation official to help improve the company’s safety rules and culture.

(Click Here for more details about the self-driving Uber test vehicle killing a pedestrian.)

According to an NTSB report filed last month, Vasquez told federal investigators she had been monitoring the self-driving interface in the car and that neither her personal nor business phones were in use until after the crash.

The crash has substantively affected Uber’s self-driving vehicle program, suspended indefinitely immediately after the collision and then permanently in Arizona a short time later. The company’s programs in Pittsburgh and San Francisco are back in operation.

(To see more about Uber’s positive earnings for Q1, Click Here.)

The company prohibits the use of any mobile device by safety drivers while the self-driving cars are on a public road, and drivers are told they can be fired for violating this rule, Reuters noted.

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