It made probably every newscast in the country. A self-driving Uber car struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona in March.
The backup driver, Rafaela Vasquez, looked down inside the vehicle more than 200 times in the 22 minutes before the accident, according to police. Her smart phone was streaming NBC’s “The Voice’’ in the minutes before the deadly collision that killed 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bike across the street.
This particular case has drawn attention due to its unique circumstances – but the larger problem of distracted driving affects thousands of people every year.
Over the speed limit, eyes off the road
Based on preliminary information, the car was going approximately 43 mph in a 35 mph zone, according to Tempe police. And their reports also made it clear that the operator was not paying attention to the road.
According to the police, Vasquez “appears to react and show a smirk or laugh at various points during the time she is looking down.’’ Her eyes were repeatedly trained on the “lower center console near her right knee.’’ However, video recordings don’t show what she’s doing with her hands. Tempe police subpoenaed viewing records from the streaming service Hulu that covered Vasquez’s silver LG Smartphone. “The user played one episode of the Voice on March 18, 2018 between 21:16:45 and approximately 21:59:00,” the company responded.
Herzberg was struck at about 9:58 p.m. Vasquez, who was supposed to provide a second layer of safety, did not begin braking until after Herzberg was hit. Uber’s self-driving system initially misidentified the victim as a vehicle, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The ride-hailing company’s specially outfitted Volvo was deliberately being tested on public roads without its emergency braking system turned on, the NTSB said. According to Uber, emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control, to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. And the distracted operator did not manually engage the brakes.
While the particular circumstances of the fatal self-driving Uber accident are obviously unique, the more general importance of keeping one’s eyes on the road cannot be overstated. Too often, vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians are the victims of distracted driving crashes. Taking your eyes off the road for a single second can lead to permanent injury or loss of life.
If you need a personal injury attorney in Oregon, look no further than Zbinden & Curtis, Attorneys at Law.