Are Smartphone Companies to Blame for Distracted Driving?
Are Smartphone Companies to Blame for Distracted Driving?

Texting while driving now factors into more than one-quarter of all traffic accidents, leading many to question what responsibility smartphone companies have to help prevent accidents. Should these companies be held responsible for injuries and deaths from distracted driving accidents? Should they be mandated to employ features that prevent users from using their device behind the wheel? Or is it up to the consumer to decide whether or not they will follow the law?

Families Sue Smartphone Companies for Distracted Driving Crashes

In 2013, 20-year-old David Riggs died in an Oakdale, Minnesota crash involving a distracted driver. Riggs’ scooter was struck by a teen driver who was texting on his iPhone. His father Craig Riggs filed a lawsuit against Apple this month. The lawsuit is one of many that claims Apple could prevent distracted driving. Plaintiffs say Apple should be responsible for installing technology on their devices that would prevent texting behind the wheel.

Last December, Apple was sued by the parents of a 5-year-old girl who died in an auto accident after their vehicle was struck by a driver who was using the FaceTime app on his iPhone. The lawsuit claims Apple could implement a lockout feature that would keep FaceTime inaccessible while the user is driving. Apple received a patent for this technology in 2014 but has not incorporated it.

However, a San Jose judge recently offered a tentative ruling dismissing the Texas family’s suit. Apple argued drivers also choose to put on makeup and consume food while driving, which can also lead to accidents. Yet, the manufacturers of those products are not considered liable for injuries sustained in those crashes. For now, the court seems to side with the tech giant on this issue.

Mobile Devices Present Biggest Distracted Driving Risk

When we look at the bigger picture of distracted driving, though, there is a distinction between accidents caused by a mobile device and those caused by other distractions. The National Safety Council reports that at least 28% of auto accidents are caused by texting and cell phone use alone. That means that more than one-quarter of all crashes are tied to distraction from a mobile device. Distracted driving also accounts for 10% of deaths caused by auto accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). On average, 11 teenagers die everyday in distracted driving crashes involving texting. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, you are 23 times more likely to get into a crash when you are texting.

Clearly cell phone use behind the wheel is a much greater threat than, for instance, applying makeup while driving. While that activity is certainly dangerous, the practice is not nearly as prevalent as cell phone use while driving. According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 69% of U.S. drivers ages 18-64 reported talking on their cell phone while driving within 30 days of the survey. Another one-third of respondents admitted to reading or sending text messages or emails.

Drivers Know the Dangers—They Text Anyway

A survey conducted by AT&T found that nearly half of adults surveyed admitted to texting and driving. Yet, 98% of them also reported they believe distracted driving is dangerous. Surprisingly, teens were less likely to text while driving, with 43% of them reported they engaged in the behavior.

The AT&T survey also revealed that parents’ behavior behind the wheel greatly influences whether or not a teen will text and drive. Parents who do not have a rule against texting and driving are more likely to have children who text and drive.

What are the Smartphone Companies Doing to Help?

Google and Apple both provide features that prevent texting and driving. However, these systems—such as Airplane Mode, which disconnects users from their cellular network—are optional. Users have to activate these features themselves for them to work. Unfortunately, this is a discipline many drivers lack the self-control to practice.

Most cell phones also have some type of voice command program that allows drivers to dictate messages. However, experts say that voice command technology fails to actually eliminate distraction. It is still distracting because the driver’s brain is focused on a task other than driving. Additionally, the dictation is often inaccurate. Drivers might then manually type on their phones to correct the error anyway, creating further distractions.

No major smartphone company has yet to install a feature that blocks text messages while users are driving. Safety apps that prevent distracted driving are available to download, but again, users have to make the decision to install these tools and actually use them.

Is it Time for Mandatory Distracted Driving Technology?

With distracted driving crashes at an all-time high and a large percentage of drivers admitting they drive distracted, some lawmakers are suggesting the use of new technology that can detect whether a driver has been using their phone behind the wheel.

The “Textalyzer” technology is the brainchild of Ben Lieberman, co-founder of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. The New York resident lost his 19-year-old son in an accident with a distracted driver in 2011. After a lengthy legal process including subpoenaing phone records to prove the at-fault driver was texting, Lieberman reached out to mobile forensics company Cellebrite to create a device that could determine if a driver was using their phone leading up to an accident.

Cellebrite created a tablet that can connect to a driver’s phone and determine whether the person had been actively using it within minutes of an accident. Police wouldn’t have access to the the specific content the driver was accessing. However, law enforcement could determine whether or not the driver was distracted by the phone leading up to the accident.

New York legislators are currently considering a bill featuring the use of this technology. The bill would allow law enforcement to use the Textalyzer technology after a crash. Drivers who refuse to hand over their phones would risk having their license suspended. Proponents of the technology liken it to being issued a Breathalyzer when a driver is suspected of DUI.

What About Privacy?

Of course, privacy is a concern when it comes to technology that analyzes people’s personal devices. But the reality is that 46 states already have laws banning texting behind the wheel. Yet distracted driving crashes continue to kill thousands of people every year. States must begin to look beyond banning smartphone use behind the wheel to combat the issue.

“Clearly the current approach to the distracted driving epidemic is not enough to put a dent in the problem. We need to begin looking into technologies that can effectively determine when crashes are caused by distracted driving. Smartphone companies need to seriously consider their role in preventing these accidents,” said Attorney Walter Clark, founder of Walter Clark Legal Group.

Our firm has been handling personal injury cases throughout the California Low Desert and High Desert communities for over 30 years. With a 95% success rate, the California personal injury attorneys at Walter Clark Legal Group will fight to hold those responsible for your loss accountable and win compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you have been injured in an auto accident and want to discuss your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer. We have offices in Indio, Rancho Mirage, Victorville, and Yucca Valley and represent clients through the entire California Low Desert and High Desert communities.

DISCLAIMER: The Walter Clark Legal Group blog is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal or medical advice. References to laws are based on general legal practices and vary by location. Information reported comes from secondary news sources. We do handle these types of cases, but whether or not the individuals and/or loved ones involved in these accidents choose to be represented by a law firm is a personal choice we respect. Should you find any of the information incorrect, we welcome you to contact us with corrections.

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