Should Apple Prevent InTEXTicated Driving?

February 2, 2017

In a move that will surely make millions of phone obsessed Millennials shriek out in horror, a class action suit has been filed against Apple alleging the company has had the ability to prevent iPhone owners from texting and driving since 2008. The complaint states that Apple has elected not to include the technology in its phones for fear of losing market share and has even had this technology patented since 2014. Further, the plaintiff, Julio Ceja is seeking to halt all iPhone sales in California until the Cupertino tech company uses the anti-text tech it allegedly possesses.
Ceja, who was injured in a rear-end collision by a driver who was using an iPhone, is not the first person to sue Apple for not doing enough to prevent texting and driving. A 2015 case filed in a Texas Federal Court alleges Apple could have done more to prevent a car accident that paralyzed a child, and killed two others. However, the Texas court hearing this case has recommended the case be dismissed for failure to state a claim of strict liability and negligence.
Ceja’s complaint claims that cell phone usage causes 26% of all car accidents in the United States. A little research into the National Safety Council’s (NSC) website provides a 2015 injury facts report, which corroborates Ceja’s claim. Page 119 of the report states that 21% of car accidents are due to cell phone usage and 5% are due to text messaging. Curiously, and somewhat related, this same report states the NSC finds no safety advantage to hands-free devices versus handheld cell phone use.
If we take the NSC’s 26% statistic and align it with Apple’s 42% smart phone market share in the United States, we can wildly assume that close to 11% of all accidents involve an iPhone of some type. From that prospective, Ceja being upset at the phone maker is understandable, especially if Apple’s main reason for not including the technology is fear of losing market share. Anger aside, it does not seem like Ceja, or others who have filed suit against Apple have a case that will stand up in court.
While Ceja claims the main reason Apple has not implemented this technology into their phone’s is mainly for economic reasons, there are other drawbacks to this anti-text technology. For this technology to be effective Apple would have to lock down the entire phone, not just texting. The New York Times states, “companies have taken the position that text-blocking technology is embryonic and unreliable. They argue that they cannot shut down a driver’s service without the potential of mistakenly shutting off a passenger’s phone or that of someone riding on a train or bus.”

Further, of the 26% of car accidents associated with cell phone usage, only 5% involve text messaging.

To lock down an entire phone while a person was driving could mean no more use of GPS, music, and phone calls for people who do not have a way to connect the phone to the car. And if the NSC’s statistics are correct, hands free devices and tools do almost nothing to actually prevent accidents. Apple would have to prevent the phone from being used at all to really curb cell phone related accidents.
Additionally, plaintiffs must show that these car accidents were foreseeable, and that Apple owed a duty of care to its customers to keep them safe and that Apple breached that duty by not installing this software. “After meeting the initial hurdle, plaintiffs will then need to show that Apple’s breach of its duty caused their accidents and that the plaintiffs suffered harm as a result. In these cases, Apple is likely to argue that the actions of the drivers were an intervening cause of the accidents, negating its liability.”
Finally, there is no question that distracted driving needs to be cut down. However, the question remains, what are people willing to accept in the interest of public safety? The technology exists to install a Breathalyzer into every vehicle, yet we do not require car manufacturers to install these devices, and we do not force citizens to use them unless there are specific circumstances. Why should law abiding citizens be hampered because of the carelessness of others? Better deterrents should be looked into first, rather than relying on a technology that may cause more issues than it solves.