The backup driver present in Uber's self-driving Volvo XC90 SUV that killed an Arizona woman in March was watching Hulu immediately before the fatal accident, according to a preliminary report authored by the Tempe Police Department and publicized following repeated media requests, Reuters reports. Rafaela Vasquez can be seen repeatedly looking down moments before the crash on the security footage of the incident released by local authorities earlier this spring. She originally told investigators she was monitoring the self-driving system interface of the vehicle on an iPad mounted on the car's console, adding that all of Uber's backup drivers are required to do so and report any strange readings.
According to the information obtained by the local police department from Hulu, Ms. Vasquez was watching talent show "The Voice" for some 42 consecutive minutes during the night of the fatal crash on March 18, having ended her stream at 9:59 PM, which the investigators concluded was the approximate time of the accident. She lifted her head just 0.5 seconds before the impact after looking down for more than 5.3 seconds, as per the same report, which concludes the accident was "entirely avoidable." The 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg was still at fault for the incident, having been jaywalking while pushing a bicycle over a poorly lit, four-lane road before being hit and succumbing to her injuries. Ms. Vasquez may nonetheless face manslaughter charges, depending on what the county prosecutors decide. Under Arizona's existing law, all autonomous vehicles must have human backup drivers while navigating public roads.
Uber discontinued its self-driving program in Arizona following the incident, though its testing license was also revoked prior to that move by Governor Doug Ducey. The company is planning to resume experiments in other cities this summer after extensive security reviews but has yet to share more details on those plans. One recent report indicated Uber cut corners while working on getting its autonomous vehicles to public roads, particularly in regards to its simulation software which was described as basic compared to solutions used by Google's Waymo and most of its other rivals. Ms. Vasquez is understood to have been laid off by the firm as part of the Arizona project closure, alongside approximately 200 other employees.