Apple Insists It’s Not Responsible For Distracted Driving Accidents Involving iPhones

Apple appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court on Thursday to argue that it shouldn't be held liable for iPhone-related distracted driving accidents, in response to a lawsuit filed against the company earlier this year.


California resident Julio Ceja filed a class action complaint against Apple in January, accusing the company of placing profit before consumer safety by choosing not to implement a lock-out mechanism that would disable an iPhone's functionality when being used behind the wheel by an engaged driver.

Ceja said his vehicle was involved in a collision with another vehicle in which the driver was texting on an iPhone.

Apple, however, told the court that it's a driver's fault if they choose to misuse an inherently safe iPhone while operating a vehicle. Apple essentially said it cannot be blamed simply because it manufactures the device, according to court documents filed electronically and obtained by MacRumors.

Just yesterday, a U.S. district court in Texas dismissed a similar distracted driving lawsuit brought against Apple last year. In that case, Meador v Apple, Inc., the plaintiffs accused Apple of failing to automatically disable a user's ability to operate an iPhone while driving, and of improper marketing.

However, judge Robert W. Schroeder III said the plaintiff's injuries stemmed from neglecting to safely operate her vehicle.
When a driver negligently operates her vehicle because she is engaging in compulsive or addictive behaviors such as eating food, drinking alcohol, or smoking tobacco, it is the driver's negligence in engaging in those activities that causes any resulting injuries, not the cook's, distiller's, or tobacconist's supposed negligence in making their products so enticing.

Similarly, her decision to direct her attention to her iPhone 5 and maintain her attention on her phone instead of the roadway is the producing cause of the injury to Plaintiffs.
Apple has faced similar lawsuits in the past. In response to one filed in Texas in 2015, Apple indicated the responsibility is on the driver to avoid distractions in a statement provided to The New York Times:
"We discourage anyone from allowing their iPhone to distract them by typing, reading or interacting with the display while driving," Apple said… "For those customers who do not wish to turn off their iPhones or switch into Airplane Mode while driving to avoid distractions, we recommend the easy-to-use Do Not Disturb and Silent Mode features."
Ceja's lawsuit mentioned a patent for a motion analyzer that would detect whether a handheld device is in motion beyond a certain speed. A scenery analyzer would then determine whether the holder of the handheld device is sitting somewhere other than the driver's seat. Otherwise, the device could be disabled.

In other embodiments, a vehicle or car key could transmit a signal that disables functionality of the handheld device while it is being operated. To a lesser degree, a vehicle could also transmit a signal that merely sends the device a notification stating that functionality should be disabled.

Apple hasn't gone as far as implementing any of those functions, but in iOS 11 it introduced Do Not Disturb While Driving.


Do Not Disturb While Driving is an optional setting that, when enabled, turns on whenever an iPhone connects to a vehicle via Bluetooth or detects rapid acceleration. While active, the feature mutes all incoming phone calls, notifications, and text messages, and the iPhone's screen stays off completely.

Phone calls are allowed, so long as an iPhone is connected to a car's Bluetooth or a hands-free accessory, allowing drivers to respond without needing to pick up their phone. If not connected to Bluetooth or a compatible accessory, calls will be blocked like text messages and notifications.

For text messages, there is an option to send your contacts a message that lets them know you're driving and will get back to them later. In an emergency, a person who is attempting to contact you via text while you're driving can break through Do Not Disturb by sending a second "urgent" message.

Do Not Disturb While Driving can also be activated manually in Settings > Do Not Disturb or in Control Center.


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Apple Sued for Choosing Not to ‘Lock-Out’ iPhones Behind the Wheel to Prevent Texting and Driving

California resident Julio Ceja is seeking a class action lawsuit against Apple, accusing the company of placing profit before consumer safety by choosing not to implement a lock-out mechanism that would disable an iPhone's functionality when being used behind the wheel by an engaged driver.

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Ceja demands that Apple halt the sale of all iPhones in California until a lock-out mechanism is implemented. He also demands that Apple release a software update that adds a lock-out mechanism to all iPhones already in the hands of consumers. He is not seeking further damages beyond legal fees and costs.

The complaint, filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, asserts that Apple's willful decision not to implement a lock-out mechanism on iPhones, chiefly to prevent texting and driving, constitutes "unfair business acts and practices" under California's Unfair Competition Law. A jury trial has been demanded.

Ceja asserts that Apple's "enormous market share" means that it is the "largest contributor" to texting and driving, while noting it is "downright shocking" that smartphone companies like Apple "do nothing to help shield the public at large from the dangers associated with the use of their phones."

"If texting and driving is a vessel of trouble, Apple is the captain of the ship," the complaint alleges.

The complaint claims that Apple recognized the dangers of texting and driving, and the important role it should play in stopping it, in its lock-out mechanism patent filed in 2008 and published in 2014.

The patent notes that "texting while driving has become a major concern of parents, law enforcement, and the general public," and further claims that "texting while driving has become so widespread it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice."

The patent describes one method where a motion analyzer would detect whether a handheld device is in motion beyond a certain speed. A scenery analyzer would be able to determine whether the holder of the handheld device is located within a safe operating area of a vehicle. Otherwise, the device could be disabled.

In other embodiments, a vehicle or car key could transmit a signal that disables functionality of the handheld device while it is being operated. To a lesser degree, a vehicle could also transmit a signal that merely sends the device a notification stating that functionality should be disabled.

In November, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommended smartphone makers develop a "Driver Mode", a simplified interface that would prevent access to non-driving-related tasks such as text messaging, social media, and viewing images and video unrelated to driving.

The complaint comes less than one month after a Texas family sued Apple for failing to enable said lock-out mechanisms to prevent distracted driving. On Christmas Eve in 2014, the family's vehicle was struck by a distracted driver who admitted to using FaceTime while driving. The accident caused one fatality.

Apple has faced other similar lawsuits in the past. In response to a Texas lawsuit filed in 2015, Apple indicated the responsibility is on the driver to avoid distractions in a statement provided to The New York Times:
"We discourage anyone from allowing their iPhone to distract them by typing, reading or interacting with the display while driving," Apple said. "For those customers who do not wish to turn off their iPhones or switch into Airplane Mode while driving to avoid distractions, we recommend the easy-to-use Do Not Disturb and Silent Mode features."
Ceja himself was rear ended by a driver who was texting behind the wheel. Whether this latest complaint has merit will be up to the court to decide. Apple has yet to publicly comment on the matter.


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U.S. Transportation Department Proposes Simplified ‘Driver Mode’ to Help Curb Distracted Driving

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed new federal guidelines [PDF] intended to reduce distracted driving caused by smartphone use behind the wheel.

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The voluntary guidelines recommend smartphone makers like Apple develop a Driver Mode, a simplified interface that would prevent access to non-driving-related tasks such as manual text messaging, social media content, automatically scrolling text, and viewing images and video not related to driving.

Driver Mode would not be initiated if the smartphone is already paired to a vehicle's infotainment system, while certain features such as maps and access to emergency services and alerts would not be locked out.

The NHTSA said technologies exist that could detect whether a driver is using a smartphone behind the wheel, and presumably enable Driver Mode, but refinements are still being made to ensure reliability. In the meantime, Driver Mode would have to be manually enabled by drivers who choose to use it.

Smartphone use while driving continues to be a major problem, despite the safety risks to drivers, passengers, and other drivers sharing the road.

The NHTSA said driver distraction was responsible for 10% of fatal crashes, 18% of crashes causing injuries, and 16% of all traffic crashes in the United States in 2014, the most recent year in which detailed distracted driving crash data is available. In total, the year had 385 fatal crashes that involved the use of a cell phone.
"Distracted driving is a deadly epidemic that has devastating consequences on our nation's roadways," said Secretary LaHood. "These guidelines recognize that today's drivers appreciate technology, while providing automakers with a way to balance the innovation consumers want with the safety we all need. Combined with good laws, good enforcement and good education, these guidelines can save lives."
Given the guidelines are voluntary, Apple and other smartphone makers are under no obligation to adhere to them.

The NHTSA is accepting public feedback about the distracted driving guidelines on the Regulations.gov website.


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