“The technology exists — we just don’t have the stomach to implement it,” said Deborah Hersman, the president of the National Safety Council and the former chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board. In 2012, the safety board sent a letter to the wireless industry association urging the companies to prevent drivers from using their phones while driving.
“Technology got us into this situation. Technology will get us out,” she said. However, she added, “We’re so afraid to tell people what they should do that you can kind of get away with murder under these conditions.”
Driving fatalities have risen to levels not seen in more than 50 years, and the growing incidence of distracted driving is getting part of the blame.
Now a lawsuit related to a Texas crash in 2013 is raising a question: Does Apple, or any cellphone maker or wireless company, have a moral responsibility to prevent devices from being used by drivers in illegal and dangerous ways?
The product liability lawsuit, filed against Apple by families of the victims, contends that Apple knew its phones would be used for texting and did not prevent Ms. Kubiak from texting dangerously. The suit is unlikely to succeed, legal experts said, and a Texas magistrate in August preliminarily recommended the case’s dismissal on grounds that it was unlikely that lawyers could prove that the use of the iPhone caused the fatal accident.
However, by not putting the technology in place, Apple has “failed in their social responsibility,” said Christopher Kutz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, who specializes in the moral and legal principles of liability. “They should’ve done it, and even done it at a market risk.”
He compared the situation to that of gunmakers who could stop selling high-capacity magazines but choose not to.
In the Apple case in Texas, lawyers who brought the suit had unearthed a fascinating document: a patent filing that Apple made in 2008, which the lawyers said was granted in 2014, for technology that would “lock out” a driver’s phone by using sensors to determine if the phone was moving and in use by a driver. If so, it would prevent certain functions, like texting.
In the patent, Apple says such technology is 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.”
It is unclear whether Apple has developed the lockout technology.
“We discourage anyone from allowing their iPhone to distract them by typing, reading or interacting with the display while driving,” Apple said in response to questions. The company did not directly address whether it could or should shut down phone functions. Rather, it indicated that the responsibility was with the driver.
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Thanks to: The New York Times