Car Accident Lawyers Ward & Ward Law Firm
Pressure is being put on cell phone manufacturers to include “lock-out” technology in their mobile devices to prevent drivers from accessing certain features while driving. Who bears the responsibility for car accident injuries and fatalities caused by distracted drivers? What are the options parents can employ to keep their children safe when driving?
The product liability case against Apple – a result of a catastrophic car accident
Several years ago, on a summer day in East Texas, 21 year old Ashley Kubiak caused a catastrophic car accident while driving her pickup and checking for messages on her iPhone. The collision left a boy of seven who loved playing team baseball, a paraplegic. The young boy, Sammy Lane Meador, was told by physicians he would never walk again as his spine had snapped in the collision. His grandmother and great aunt perished in the accident. The families of the accident victims joined together to bring a product liability case against Apple, entitled Meador, et al vs. Apple, Inc.
During the discovery process it was revealed that in 2008 Apple had petitioned for and later received a technology patent called “Driver Handheld Computing Device Lock-Out.” In the documentation submitted to the patent office, a description of the technology read, “a lock-out mechanism to prevent operation of one or more functions of handheld computing devices by drivers when operating vehicles.”
The plaintiffs argue that while Apple was fully aware their phones would be used for text messaging while driving, and even used this reasoning in their patent application, Apple did nothing to prevent Ms. Kubiak, an iPhone consumer, from illegally texting behind the wheel. Plaintiffs’ attorneys argue Apple has a moral obligation to society to employ the patented technology in their cell phones. Plaintiffs’ attorney, Greg Love, states “When companies are faced with the choice of doing the right thing or doing the cheaper thing, they tend to do the cheaper thing until they’re forced to do the right thing.”
In 2014, Apple received the patent which uses sensors to determine if the phone is moving and in use by a driver, and employs the lock-out features for such functions as sending and receiving texts, email, social media posts and notifications. However, since 2014 (the year Apple was granted the patent), the company has distributed the iPhone 5s, 5c, 6, 6+, 7, 7+ and a number of IOS software updates. Yet, the technology has never been deployed. Nor has any other cell phone manufacturer incorporated the technology into their phones.
Car accident lawyers are disturbed by this survey
Distracted driving includes any behavior that takes your attention away from the operation of the vehicle. In 2015, Erie Insurance conducted an online survey consisting of 2,019 respondents 18 years and older. Their motive? To learn the kind of distracted behaviors their clients had engaged while driving their vehicle. You won’t believe what respondents admitted to:
- Styling hair (15%)
- Romantic interlude (15%)
- Changing clothes (9%)
- Changing drivers (3%)
- Taking selfies (4%)
- Flossing / brushing teeth (4%)
- Going to the bathroom (3%)
- Texting while driving (30%)
Disturbing statistics, all! But note that nearly 1/3 of adults taking this survey admitted to texting while driving. This is especially alarming because text messaging behind the wheel diverts four primary modalities necessary for a focused driving experience:
- Cognitive thinking, reasoning skills
- Manual/tactile cell phone use
In 2014, three thousand one hundred seventy nine teen fatalities in the U.S. were caused by drivers who momentarily diverted their attention from the safe operation of their motor vehicle; 3,179 needless fatalities – 6,358 grieving parents, in addition to siblings, grandparents and other grievous kin.
Texting fatalities have surpassed fatalities caused by alcohol
Between 2011, when no state bans existed for texting, and 2013, after 14 states passed legislation banning texting while driving, texting rates declined from 43% to 30%. Today, 46 continental states have banned text messaging for all drivers. But in reviewing data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey, approximately 1 in 3 teens readily admits to texting behind the wheel. And while fatalities resulting from drunk driving have decreased, teen deaths attributed to texting while driving have surpassed teen fatalities caused by drinking and driving.
Did you know?
- On average, the amount of time eyes are off the road when texting is 5 seconds
- The distance covered in 5 seconds at 55 mph is the length of a football field
Understanding the myths that fuel texting and driving
Myth No. 1 – The fear of missing out (FOMO)
In 2016, FOMO, an acronym for “the fear of missing out,” was ushered into the Merriam-Webster dictionary along with other words and acronyms implying social disconnect such as nomophobia (fear of being without a cell phone) and ICYMI (in case you missed it.) FOMO demonstrates an anxiety of epidemic proportions that keeps smart phone users continuously checking their phone for messages, news, announcements, tweets or feeds. The underlying principle of FOMO hints that the current moment in time is never good enough and can always be improved by hooking up with friends, making an announcement on Twitter, posting a response to Facebook, uploading a photo of your present activity, announcing your location or commenting on developments. The fear of missing out is a compulsive and addictive behavioral response.
In an interview with media, Jack Walker, attorney for the plaintiffs in the above-mentioned case, echoed scientific findings when he stated a person’s response to a cell phone notification is a “neurobiological response from the brain, it basically triggers the pleasure centers of the brain with a shot of dopamine… people do it so frequently, they don’t even realize it’s happening.”
Myth No. 2 – Multi-tasking
How many times have you heard someone say, I’m multi-tasking? This meme endorses the lie that self-esteem and social worthiness are awarded to those who can split tasks and perform double the work in half the time. In fact, multi-tasking is the antagonist of deep intellectual thinking. The belief that we can focus our attention on multiple, simultaneous tasks, each involving conscious control — is fiction. Our brains are not wired to focus intently on multiple concurrent thoughts. What we typically call multi-tasking actually involves a cerebral interruption and restart between tasks. Best selling author, Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist and research consultant states “The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time.”
From an article published in The Scientific American: “Some commonplace activities, such as driving and talking on a cell phone frequently go hand-in-hand, but the brain is likely switching its main focus quickly between the two activities, perhaps a reason the pairing has been so dangerous.”
Personal responsibility v social responsibility – The motion to dismiss the product liability lawsuit
In 2015, Apple filed a motion to dismiss the product liability claim. Defendant Apple stated in court documents that it was not the iPhone that caused the accident but the lack of personal responsibility shown by Ms. Kubiak. Apple further claims, eating while driving would encourage future product liability suits against fast food manufacturers as a result of plaintiffs’ argument. The Federal judge assigned to the case signed a recommendation to dismiss the case. The recommendation states in part: “…Apple’s failure to configure the iPhone to automatically disable did nothing more than create the condition that made Plaintiffs’ injuries possible.” Nevertheless, the case is still pending in United States District Court.
At this time, there isn’t a cell phone manufacturer or mobile service provider that wants to market the first mobile phone that clamps down on distracted driving behaviors. Similar to change through legislation, modifications in the free market are slowly evolving and will require pressure from consumers, special interest groups and the success of product liability lawsuits brought against cell phone manufacturers going forward.
Apps for restoring peace of mind
Following is a short list of Apps that may help curb the temptation to initiate, read and respond to text messages and social network posts and notifications. They are in no particular order; what works for one family, may not be effective for another. Browse through the apps to determine what works best to protect you and your family or try them all until you find the app that suits your lifestyle. Most apps are available for download at Google Play for Android devices or the App store for iPhones. I have noted when the applications are downloadable from the developer’s website.
AT&T DriveMode (Free)
Available for IPhone and Android devices. Full features are available to AT&T Mobile customers; limited features for all other users.
- Turns on when the vehicle is moving
- Access music and navigation with one touch
- Silences text message alerts
- Automatically replies to text messages
Parents are alerted if:
- AT&T DriveMode is turned off
- Auto-Mode is disabled
- New speed-dial number is added
Life Saver – Distracted Driving (Free)
Available for IPhone and Android devices. Optional rewards based technology. Sponsor sets guidelines and monitors behavior. App is endorsed by a number of safe driving organizations.
- Blocks phone use while driving
- gets driver’s last known location
- Safe arrival notifications
- Can share with others
Update 8/29/17: Apple’s Failure to Implement a Lock-Out System
David Riggs’ son was killed in an accident when another driver was texting on his I-phone. A Suit was brought against Apple for failure to implement a lock-out system – technology Apple has had since 2008. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Maureen A. Folan threw the case out because to allege Apple was the cause of the ultimate harm to Riggs son was thin and attenuated.