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    Uber safety driver of fatal self-driving crash was watching Hulu, not the road


    A safety driver operating an Uber self-driving vehicle looked down at a phone that was streaming The Voice on Hulu 204 times during a 43-minute test drive that ended when pedestrian Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed in Tempe, Arizona, according to a 318-page police report reviewed by TechCrunch.

    The Tempe Police Department released late Thursday evening the report on the fatal self-driving car crash that occurred in a Phoenix suburb in March. The lengthy report reveals that safety driver Rafaela Vasquez was streaming the show The Voice on her phone at the time of the crash.

    Police determined that Vasquez’s eyes were off the road for 3.67 miles of the 11.8 total miles driven, or about 31 percent of the time.

    Based on the data, police reported that Vasquez could have avoided hitting Herzberg if her eyes were on the road. The case has been submitted to the Maricopa County Attorney’s office for review against Vasquez, who could face charges of vehicular manslaughter.

    “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.”

    Uber has hired former National Transportation Safety Board chair Christopher Hart as an adviser on the company’s overall safety culture. The company is reviewing internal processes, including its safety driver training practices.

    While the report reveals the actions of the safety driver, questions are still swirling around Uber’s self-driving technology system in the modified Volvo XC90. A preliminary report by the NTSB found Uber’s modified Volvo XC90’s LiDAR and radar first spotted an object in its path about six seconds before the crash. The self-driving system first classified the pedestrian as an unknown object, then as a vehicle and then as a bicycle. At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was needed to mitigate a collision, according to the NTSB. But Uber had disabled Volvo’s emergency braking system so it didn’t work when the vehicle was under computer control to reduce the potential for “erratic behavior.”

    The accident occurred March 18 at about 10 p.m. when an Uber self-driving vehicle struck 49-year-old pedestrian Herzberg on Mill Avenue, just south of Curry Road, according to the Tempe Police Department. The vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision.

    Uber immediately halted public testing of its self-driving vehicles following the crash. At the time, Uber was testing autonomous vehicles on public roads in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

    Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey later suspended Uber from testing its self-driving cars in Arizona.

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