Several months ago, The New York Times reported that although Apple, Verizon, AT&T, and other cellphone companies warn of the risks of distracted driving and offer options for blocking texting on the road, they choose to not deploy technology that would block texting automatically while driving.
A Texas product liability lawsuit filed against Apple is now raising the question: Does Apple, or any other cellphone maker, have a responsibility to prevent wireless devices from being used by drivers in ways that are illegal and potentially dangerous? Apple has argued for dismissal of the case because drivers should bear responsibility for their own actions.
Existing Block-Out Technology Is Not Being Used
In 2014, Apple obtained a patent for technology that would lock out a driver’s phone by using sensors to determine whether the phone was moving and being used by the driver. If so, certain functions such as texting would be disabled. It is unclear whether Apple has developed the technology.
In the 2008 patent filing, Apple said that technology was necessary because, “texting while driving has become so widespread that it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice,” and “teens understand that texting while driving is dangerous, but this is often not enough motivation to end the practice.”
But since that time, Apple has not addressed whether it could or even should shut down cell phone functions, instead discouraging drivers from allowing their iPhone to distract them and recommending the phone’s “Do Not Disturb” and “Silent Mode” features, or “Airplane Mode,” for those who do not want to turn off their phones while driving, according to the Times report.
Texting While Driving Is a Big Problem
Texting while driving continues to be a major problem across the nation. In 2015, there were 15,307 distracted-driving crashes in Colorado, a 16 percent increase over a four-year period, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. The most common distraction involved in these crashes was cell phone use. While texting is banned in 46 states and the District of Columbia, many drivers continue to do it, despite the dangers.
Except for novice drivers (those under 18) there is no prohibition on cell phone use while driving in Colorado, but all Colorado drivers are prohibited from texting while driving, except in the case of an emergency. Those younger than 18 are prohibited from using cell phones (handheld or hands-free) while driving, although there are exceptions for reporting a fire, traffic accident with injuries, serious road hazard, a medical or hazardous materials emergency, or a reckless or careless driver.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration reports that 3,179 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers, including those using cellphones, in 2014. The same year, there were 9,967 fatalities in motor vehicles involving alcohol-impaired drivers.
Despite the triple number of fatalities linked to drunk driving, car manufacturers aren’t legally mandated to install ignition interlock devices on all cars, so should cell phone companies be held responsible for motorists who text while driving?