Police: Uber Operator Behind Self-Driving Car That Killed Woman In Arizona Was Watching TV Show

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

Police are saying the operator of a self-driving Uber vehicle who fatally struck a woman in Arizona was distracted because he was watching a television show.

In a 318-page report, authorities rule that Rafaela Vasquez was streaming the television talent show “The Voice” at the time of the crash. Investigators reached out to Hulu and obtained records that show he was viewing that program for roughly 42 minutes during a time that “coincides with the approximate time of the collision,” according to Reuters.

Up until early March, it was required by law in the state to have an operator onboard while testing the autonomous vehicle. Weeks after the policy change, the accident in question occurred, but most companies still usually have either two or one “safety drivers” in the vehicle to analyze the technology.

No charges have been brought yet, and it remains to be seen if the police will do so. The report, however, says it’s possible that Vasquez could face vehicle manslaughter charges. The situation will likely put law enforcement in an interesting predicament, as such legal cases are as rare as the autonomous technology.

The latest incident marks the second time a driverless car tester was believed to be watching television rather than maintaining alertness. Eye witness reports for a lethal accident in May say that the man behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S employing its autopilot mode was watching a “Harry Potter” series movie before crashing into a tractor-trailer in Florida.

Despite the descriptors of the technologically advanced vehicles (driverless, self-driving, autonomous), all such cars for the most part have an expert behind the wheel to take over the operations of the system just in case the system malfunctions or fails. But, by trying to take advantage of the primary feature that’s still nascent, the two operators were allegedly caught off guard, leading to fatal consequences. (RELATED: Uber Picks Up Former Top Gov’t Official To Help With Safety Following Fatal Self-Driving Car Accident)

Still, the amount of injuries and deaths that occur with non-driverless cars, or more aptly normal vehicles, is fairly high due to distracted and drunk driving. Multiple reports and studies say that “introducing autonomous vehicles sooner could save hundreds of thousands of lives over time.”

And because of this and imminent profits, dozens of corporations are still going full steam ahead in autonomous technology development and implementation.

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