Who is culpable for distracted driving accidents?
Apple, SnapChat and other tech companies sued over traffic deaths
When an intoxicated driver causes a fatal accident, the family can sue the bar that helped that person get sloppy drunk. When a texting driver causes an accident, should victims be able to sue the companies that make it so easy and appealing to use smartphones while driving?
This debate is playing out in courts and legislatures around the country. A Wisconsin man whose daughter was killed by a driver distracted by a live-streaming app recently sued Apple Inc. for wrongful death. The lawsuit may not succeed, but more and more people are suggesting that smartphones and apps should be disabled while a car is in motion.
What do you think? Texting while driving is already illegal, but the problem is not going away.
Do smartphones and apps encourage dangerous behavior?
Snapchat was sued in 2016 over a popular filter for its app that displays the user’s real-time speed in miles per hour. A Georgia teenager who accelerated her car to 113 mph so she could brag on Snapchat crashed into another driver at 100-plus, leaving him with permanent brain damage. Despite Snapchat’s disclaimer not to drive while using the app, the lawsuit contended that the app encourages reckless driving and that Snapchat was well aware of previous crashes associated with its Speed filter.
The Wisconsin driver who killed a 5-year-old girl on Christmas Eve in 2014 was using the native FaceTime video chat feature on his iPhone. He plowed his SUV at freeway speed into the rear of another car that had slowed for traffic. That man faces criminal charges of manslaughter. The victim’s family says that the Apple company is also culpable for failing to engineer their phones for public safety.
We have the technology to fix this problem. Do we have the will?
The wrongful death lawsuit contends that existing technology in iPhones can detect when a car is moving, and thus Apple could shut down certain apps incompatible with operating a motor vehicle. A former NASA engineer has developed technology that would disable the driver’s smartphone apps without interfering with passengers’ devices. At least one mobile service provider may be rolling out a similar system in the near future.
Available science could curb distracted driving accidents, yet some tech companies and civil liberty skeptics are not on board. They argue that people are to blame, not gadgets, and that there are criminal and civil remedies in place to hold those drivers accountable.
It’s not about holding dangerous drivers legally responsible after the fact. The issue is preventing such tragedies in the first place. Just as the threat of jail does not always prevent drunk driving, laws against texting while driving are clearly not changing behavior. The research consistently reveals that an alarming percentage of drivers believe they can safely text while driving. But the actual crash statistics show that we need to be rescued from ourselves – fighting technology with technology.