Police say Uber ‘safety’ driver was streaming TV show before self-driving car hit and killed woman

Uber self driving
A self-driving Uber vehicle on the streets of Pittsburgh, much like the Volvo which struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Police in Tempe, Ariz., have determined in a new report that the safety driver behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber was distracted by a TV show she was streaming on her phone before her vehicle collided with a pedestrian in March.

Reuters reported on the findings late Thursday night, and cited a 318-page report from the Tempe Police Department that was released in response to a public records request.

Elaine Herzberg, 49, was killed March 18 while crossing the street outside of a crosswalk in what was reported at the time to be the first known death of a person hit by an autonomous vehicle on a public roadway.

Police said Uber driver Rafaela Vasquez was repeatedly looking down and not at the road and only glanced up in the instant right before her vehicle struck Herzberg.

Reuters reported that police obtained records from Hulu, the streaming television service, which showed that Vasquez’s account was playing the NBC singing reality TV show “The Voice” the night of the crash. According to the report, she watched for about 42 minutes, ending at 9:59 p.m., which “coincides with the approximate time of the collision.”

It hasn’t been determined whether Vasquez will be charged, but Reuters said the report indicates she could face charges of vehicle manslaughter. Police said the crash was “deemed entirely avoidable” if Vasquez had been paying attention.

The incident led Uber to pull its fleet of self-driving cars off the streets of Tempe, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.