Uber driver streaming 'The Voice' just before fatal Ariz. crash

Elaine Herzberg was wheeling her bike across the road when she was hit by the Volvo which was being driven by Rafaela Vasquez

Elaine Herzberg was wheeling her bike across the road when she was hit by the Volvo which was being driven by Rafaela Vasquez

A 318-page report from the Tempe Police Department, released late on Thursday in response to a public records request, said that the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, repeatedly looked down and not at the road, glancing up just a half-second before the vehicle hit Elaine Herzberg, 49, who was crossing the street at night. Hulu provided records showing that Vasquez was watching "The Voice" just before the crash, the newspaper reported.

Per the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) preliminary report, Uber's lidar and radar spotted Herzberg a full 6 seconds before impact.

Cody Fleming, assistant professor of systems engineering at the University of Virginia, told me in a conversation about autonomous vehicle levels - Level 0 means no vehicle automation with the driver fully in control; Level 5 is the highest, with the auto able to drive itself in any situation and condition - that humans don't do well with boredom. The report said the crash, which marks the first fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, wouldn't have happened had the driver not been distracted.

According to the 318-page report, Vasquez repeatedly looked down and appeared distracted, only looking up a half second prior to the collision.

Earlier this year, Uber said it employs about 400 human safety drivers like Vasquez across various cities. It is not yet known if the driver will be charged with vehicular manslaughter. According to police, she "appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down". "During the 9 video clips, I found that the driver looked down 204 times with almost all of them having the same eye placement at the lower center console near her right knee". They found no signs that she'd been texting, or talking with anyone, but they did notice three video apps one on of her phones that could've been drawing her attention-Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu.

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

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

A preliminary police report released last month found that the vehicle had about six seconds to react to Herzberg straying into the road, the BBC says.

A report from the Tempe, Ariz., police obtained by Reuters through a Freedom of Information Act request described the crash as "entirely avoidable".

While Tempe Police initially said Uber was "likely" not at fault in the accident, they didn't rule out the possibility of future charges against the backup driver. Less than a second before impact, the vehicle's data recorder showed that Vasquez turned the Volvo's steering wheel but that she didn't apply the brakes until after Herzberg was struck. "We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles", an Uber rep said. The vehicle was in autonomous mode at the time of the collision.

Police have referred the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for possible charges.

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