Report: Uber driver streaming Hulu prior to deadly self-driving crash in Tempe

[below is for historical purposes; please visit the main consolidated page at uber-involved-pedestrian-fatality. The driver was finally charged in Sept 2020]

Tempe Police’s report on the March 2018 Uber-involved pedestrian fatality has been released, 318 pages(!) it was reported on 6/22/2018 from various news organizations. It would be good if all serious and fatal traffic crashes were investigated so thoroughly.

The crash of an Uber self-driving car that killed an Arizona woman in March was “entirely avoidable,” according to police reports released by the Tempe Police Department. Cellphone data obtained by police suggests that the Uber operator was also streaming an episode of reality show The Voice at the time of the fatal incident. —

The Yavapai County Attorney’s office is still deciding as mentioned in a 6/22/2018 news story  if watching TV while supposedly driving constitutes a crime such as negligent homicide or manslaughter. Note that the Yuma County Attorney brought manslaughter charges, and a jury convicted of him of negligent homicide, against a truck driver who was distracted by facebook.

§13-1102  Negligent Homicide / Felony class 4 / Criminal Negligence..
” ‘Criminal negligence’ means… that a person fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk… of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. §13-105(9)(d)

Background and details on the Uber crash are here.

I haven’t yet seen the 318 page!) report yet, but @safeselfdrive, a CA lawyer specializing in AV, posted a bunch of tidbits beginning with this one all day the 22nd; the redactions are interesting/curious. He also mentions/claims: “Carpenter-crossover: when Tempe PD could not locate Vasquez in the days after the collision, it obtained a warrant for cell location, including use of an IMSI-catcher, based on a showing of probable cause for vehicular manslaughter.” Carpenter is a very recent cellphone-records / 4th amendment case.



10 thoughts on “Report: Uber driver streaming Hulu prior to deadly self-driving crash in Tempe”

  1. Let us know if he’s charged.

    Rather, I’d prefer that “self-driving” cars be prohibited until the technology improves so they can better recognize vulnerable road users and have the ability to limit certain distracted behaviors by “drivers.”

  2. Interesting they say they charged the back-up driver Vasquez, but not Uber’s engineer that turned off “auto-brake” for the self-driving mode. The logs found the Uber car’s sensors detected Ms Herzberg crossing the road with plenty of time to stop. However, Uber’s engineers deactivated the auto-brake feature because it made the driving experience unpleasant – by braking too often.

  3. Why do engineers want to turn off the auto-brake function? I thought that was one of the main benefits of automated vehicles.

  4. Bob, according to reports, Uber’s engineer was said to “turn off” the auto brake function because prior testing showed the car sensed obstructions in the roadway and braked too often. Example, a plastic bag blows across the road and triggers the sensors. A human driver can discern if there is a real need to brake or not. Uber’s test car apparently braked too often, causing an unpleasant driving experience.

    To make matters worse, it was reported that Uber’s car did not warn the back-up driver (through audible and/or visible alarm) that the car’s sensor system was indicating the car needed to brake. Apparently, the car sensors detected Ms Herzberg crossing the road well in advance of the crash, but no action was taken. It seems all involved in the testing have some responsibility for this.

  5. Thanks, Ausberg, for the info. FYI, I’ve circulated on a few FB sites the following re the . Feel free to share:

    Autonomous vehicles (AV), basically self-driving cars, are not yet safe enough for the open road—especially if you are a bicyclist or pedestrian. Yet, Congress is considering bills that will allow them to be tested on public roads.

    According to the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), there is no requirement that these AV’s can “see” pedestrians and bicyclists and has therefore launched a petition calling for increased safety standards on AV’s before they take the public roads.

    “…since these bills were introduced, at least seven crashes involving cars either equipped with driverless capabilities or technology masquerading as self-driving resulting in several deaths and injuries have occurred.” (See article link below.)

    I ask you to join me in signing LAB’s petition:

    You can read more about the Senate bill, which is being held up by five senators who share our concern, here and here For additional info, Google “Senate Bill 1885 AV.”


  6. Bob, thanks for the LAB link, I signed it and sent it to friends. This issue is of grave concern for cyclists, in my estimation and it is important to get the word out. The Uber crash in Tempe illustrates many problems, and showed us that law enforcement and the legal system are ill prepared to deal with self-driving car crashes.

  7. @bob — for what it’s worth, the (Volvo) factory AEB (Automatic Emergency Braking) was disabled; presumably to prevent fighting/conflict with uber’s presumably all-inclusive system.
    Note also in a related concept, it’s come out that Tesla’s annoyingly-named “auto-pilot”, the car is programmed to ignore stopped objects when used at high speeds. Thus the high-profile crashing into e.g. a stopped fire truck — hard to miss, right?

    @augsburg So nobody wants to talk about it, but it seems to me the closest parallel legally (w.r.t. the human) driver being charged is the case of the DPS officer who was killed (link above in the article).
    Also I added some info to the Uber Tempe 2017 crash . It’s been suggested that Uber (or someone who programmed the car, or whatever) should be “charged” in that crash. I find the notion probably doesn’t or never had legs; the concept of charging the human driver in this one (2018) is an entirely different situation from 2017 crash.

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