According to a police report released by the Tempe Police Department Thursday night, the deadly self-driving Uber crash back in March was "entirely avoidable". That's how they determined that Vasquez had spent the 40 minutes before the crash watching an episode of The Voice on Hulu.
Tempe police checked Rafaela Vasquez's phone after the crash, as camera footage recorded inside the self-driving vehicle showed her to be looking down at something away from the road multiple times, according the report, first obtained by Reuters yesterday (June 21).
Tempe Police Detective Michael McCormick asked Hulu for help in the investigation, writing in a May 10 email to the company that "this is a very serious case where the charges of vehicle manslaughter may be charged, so correctly interpreting the information provided to us is crucial".
The local police force in Tempe, AZ, are supposing that the debacle could have been avoided if the test driver had been paying close attention to her surroundings, effectively contradicting the prior belief that the incident was unavoidable.
The Volvo's internal video shows Vasquez repeatedly looking down below the dashboard as the vehicle speeds along, as observers noticed when the video was released in March.
An Uber spokeswoman announced the company was undergoing a "top-to-bottom safety review" last month.
Speaking to the tech site, an Uber spokesperson said: "We have a strict policy prohibiting mobile device usage for anyone operating our self-driving vehicles".
Drivers are told they can be fired for violating this rule.More news: Belgium romp past Tunisia with Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku doubles
The crash took place at night, with the autonomous Uber in self-driving mode at the time.
"The report states data obtained from the self-driving system shows the system first registered radar and LIDAR observations of the pedestrian about six seconds before impact, when the vehicle was traveling 43 miles per hour", the NTSB's report on the crash reads.
The auto, being monitored by backup driver Rafaela Vasquez, slammed into Elaine Herzberg and killed her. Herzberg was walking her bike across Mill Avenue outside of a crosswalk.
Tempe Police Department A photo of the self-driving Uber SUV in Tempe immediately following the fatal accident in March.
Both Vasquez and Uber have declined to comment on the new evidence.
"This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted", the report says.
"The vehicle was in auto-drive", Rafaela Vasquez, 44, is heard telling police on an officer's body camera. The report found that Vasquez "was distracted and looking down" for close to seven of the almost 22 minutes before the collision. "We plan to share more on the changes we'll make to our program soon", the statement said. Uber also said it brought in former transportation safety board chairman Christopher Hart to advise the company on safety. The operator of the vehicle was supposed to be watching the road and dealing with emergencies.
NTSB investigators asked Vasquez about her downward glances in a post-crash interview.