Should Apple be held responsible for drivers who text?

Is Apple's iPhone really behind a staggering average of 52,000 vehicular accidents and 312 fatalities per year in California alone?

Those are the figures according to a class-action lawsuit filed by a plaintiff who was rear-ended by an iPhone user who was busy texting instead of watching the road. The lawsuit draws its data from the Federal Highway Administration and the California Highway Patrol.

Texting while driving is one of the leading causes of distracted driving. According to the United States Department of Transportation, a texting driver is actually six times more dangerous than a drunk one.

The lawsuit, which is similar in nature to another class-action lawsuit filed against Apple for it's FaceTime app, seeks to hold the company liable through product liability laws. Both lawsuit point to the same patent filed by Apple in 2008 that would disable mobile devices from being used by drivers through a combination of motion analyzers and scenery analysis sensors.

Motion analyzers would alert the device that it was travelling at a certain speed, while the scenery analyzers would determine if the phone was located in a safe space within the vehicle for use. That way, the device could lock out drivers from using it while still allowing passengers to use their phones while travelling.

Product liability laws do hold a company responsible for design defects when there are foreseeable risks involved and an alternative, safer design is possible, economically feasible and wouldn't defeat the purpose for which the product was created.

On the surface, it might seem like the lawsuit could easily succeed, but there are a few issues that could prove problematic for the plaintiffs. Apple is the only manufacturer being cited by the lawsuit, but it is only one of many manufacturers who make similar devices that can be used to text and drive. In addition, Apple already provides drivers "hands-free" options, like CarPlay and Siri. A court may be reluctant to hold Apple solely responsible for the poor choices of some of its users when it already offers alternative choices that are safer.

In addition, the lawsuit itself points out what may be the main reason that Apple hasn't moved forward with the design modifications: A justifiable fear that it would lose out on its market share if users didn't like the technology. That could mean that the alternative design really isn't economically feasible after all.

Source: Tech Times, "Apple Blamed For Allowing Texting While Driving: Will The Lawsuit Hold Up In Court?," Aaron Mamiit, Jan. 19, 2017

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