Police in Tempe, Arizona, have found evidence showing that the “safety driver” who was behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber SUV was distracted and streaming a television show on her phone right up until about the time of a fatal accident in March. According to a Reuters news report, the 318-page report from the Tempe Police Department obtained by Reuters said that the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, repeatedly looked down and not at the road, looking up just a half second before the car hit 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg who was crossing the street at night.
Facts About Distracted Driver Surface
Vasquez could face charges of vehicular manslaughter. Police got records from Hulu, an online service for streaming television shows and movies, which showed Vasquez’s account was playing the talent show “The Voice” the night of the crash for about 42 minutes ending at 9:59 p.m., which was the approximate time of the fatal collision. The Uber SUV was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash. However, Uber, like other self-driving car developers, requires a backup driver in the vehicle to intervene when the autonomous system fails or when a tricky scenario arises.
Vasquez looked up just 0.5 seconds before the crash keeping her head down for 5.3 seconds as the Volvo SUV was traveling at about 44 mph. Uber suspended all its self-driving tests after this crash and underwent a review. The company prohibits the use of any mobile device by safety drivers when driverless cars are on a public road and company policy states that drivers can be fired for violating this rule.
Vasquez had told federal officials that she had been monitoring the self-driving interface in the car and that she wasn’t using her phone until after the crash. The police report showed Uber had disabled the emergency braking system in the Volvo and Vasquez began breaking less than a second after the vehicle hit Herzberg.
Questions Linger About Driverless Cars
While this report shows that the driver was distracted at the time, the number of recent crashes involving driverless vehicles does raise important questions about how ready these vehicles are for public roadways. Can sensors on these vehicles detect all real-life scenarios? Can these cars react to real-life emergencies in the same manner a human driver can?
As far as our car accident lawyers can tell, there are still several glitches that need to be worked out before these cars are ready for primetime. Until these problems are addressed, driverless cars should be tested on a track, not on a public roadway. Innovation is important, but not as important as human lives.