Car Industry

'Driver' of autonomous Uber was watching Hulu during fatal Arizona crash

Rafaela Vasquez, the assigned driver of Uber's prototype, self-driving Volvo XC90, could face a charge of vehicular manslaughter for driving while distracted.

Uber and Volvo have partnered to make self-driving cars. The XC90 pictured here is the make of the vehicle involved in the fatal accident in Tempe, Arizona.

In March, a self-driving car undergoing testing for ride-hailing service Uber struck and killed a pedestrian on the public streets of Tempe, Arizona. Footage of the incident showed that the driver, Rafaela Vasquez, appeared to be distracted in the moments before impact. Now, according to a Tempe Police Department report, the cause for that distraction has been found: Hulu.

Reuters reported late Thursday that Tempe police worked with Hulu to obtain Vasquez's viewing history, finding that she was watching The Voice on her phone during a time that corresponds to the moment of impact. Further, the report indicates that Vasquez was "distracted or looking down" nearly one-third of the 22 minutes leading up to the crash.

Uber was testing its modified Volvo XC90 in Tempe, Arizona, a locality favored by many developing self-driving vehicles due to its relaxed regulations when it comes to the certification of those technologies. Indeed, Waymo plans to launch its own self-driving, ride-hailing service in Phoenix later this year.

The fatal accident in March raised many questions among those testing autonomous vehicles on public streets, and now it raises questions about the liability of the driver assigned to monitor the vehicle. According to the police report, Vasquez could face a charge of vehicular manslaughter.

Vehicular manslaughter is often assigned in DUI-related incidents, but those related to aggressive or distracted driving apply as well. Manslaughter in Arizona is a class 2 felony and carries a minimum sentence of four years and a maximum of 10 years.