On the night she struck and killed a pedestrian, the safety driver behind the wheel of an Uber self-driving test vehicle spent more than a third of her time staring at a cell phone instead of the road ahead.
An analysis conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board found Rafaela Vasquez spent 34 percent of her time looking at her phone while streaming the TV show "The Voice."
During one driving interval, along the same stretch of road where the crash later occurred, she diverted her attention downward to the phone for 26 consecutive seconds. In the three minutes before the crash, she glanced at her phone 23 times.
In its final report on the March 2018 crash, released Wednesday, the NTSB said the probable cause of the crash was Vasquez's failure to monitor the driver environment.
But that failure did not occur in a vacuum. While not diminishing Vasquez's role, the report zeros in on the notion that automation can stir complacency in humans assigned to monitor its performance.
The phrase "automation complacency" appears 18 times in the report's 78 pages, sounding an alarm for those in the auto industry working on everything from driver-assist features to conditional autonomy.
Automation complacency is "present in many crashes and seen in all modes of transportation," NTSB Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg writes in a supplemental statement to the final report. "Automation performs remarkably well most of the time, and therein lies the problem."
The better the automation, the more substantial the potential for complacency.