Cops: Autonomous Uber driver may have been streaming The Voice before death crash

Reports say she was watching reality TV at time of fatal impact


A woman in the driving seat of an autonomous Uber that hit and killed a pedestrian was likely streaming an episode of telly show The Voice on her phone immediately before the collision, according to reports.

State police in Tempe, Arizona, reckoned the crash, which killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was "entirely avoidable" had the focus of Uber's "safety driver" not been elsewhere. Driver Rafaela Vasquez was watching The Voice in the minutes prior to the accident, according to police.

Streaming service Hulu reportedly shared records with cops that showed Vasquez's account was being used to stream the talent show on the night of the crash, stopping at 21:59. A preliminary US National Transportation Safety Board report on the crash, released in May, put the time of the collision at 21:58.

The same NTSB paper also reported that Uber's self-driving Volvo XC90's emergency braking systems were turned off "to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behaviour". The operator of the vehicle was supposed to be watching the road and dealing with emergencies.

Reuters reported that The Voice was streamed for 42 minutes before the collision. For its part, Uber prohibits the use of mobile devices by safety drivers while on the road.

Local news website AZCentral said, quoting the police report, that in the 22 minutes before the crash, the driver spent a total of 6 minutes 47 seconds looking down, glancing toward her right knee 204 times.

Vasquez had also told police she had her hands "hovering" over the wheel. The report, as quoted by AZCentral, said: "Sometimes, her face appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the times that she is looking down. Her hands are not visible in the frame of the video during these times."

The crash has caused much soul-searching in the emerging self-driving industry, with Uber abandoning its testing programme in Arizona.

The report has been submitted to prosecutors, who will now decide if Vasquez should face charges. ®

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