Distracted Drivers v. Smart Phones: Who’s Liable?

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On April 22nd, we wrote about how many motorists still text and drive even when they know the risks.  Cell phones are an incredible distraction, but since the ban on driving and texting in South Carolina took effect in December 2014, only around 2,000 tickets have been written for the offense.  According to the South Carolina Department of Transportation, fatalities from distracted driving were at an all-time high in 2015 with 64 deaths.  In fact, motor vehicle accident fatalities nationwide are at their highest point in the last fifty years, and cell phones are being blamed for this epidemic.

Most people would assume that a distracted driver who injures another would be the only liable party in a lawsuit.  However, in the past couple of years, some people have begun trying to sue smartphone manufacturers as well.

Lawsuits and Smart Phones: Texting while Driving

Since 2016, there have been numerous lawsuits throughout the country brought against Apple, Samsung, and other manufacturers.  Their argument is simple: public safety should be valued over profits.  Smartphone makers have technology that would automatically lock cell phones in automobiles once the smartphone detects the automobile traveling at a certain speed.  Victims’ families want to know why this technology is not in use.

Indeed, one lawsuit in California brought Apple to the forefront.  Apple has a patent for “a handheld computing device [that] can provide a lock-out mechanism without requiring any modifications or additions to a vehicle by using a motion analyzer, a scenery analyzer and a lock-out mechanism.”  The plaintiff in that case argued that the use of this technology could save thousands of lives throughout the United States, in addition to hundreds of thousands of injuries.

Lawsuits and Smart Phones: Applications

Texting isn’t the only distraction that causes accidents.  Apps can too.  In another recent lawsuit against Apple, a family sued over a fatal car crash in Texas on Christmas Eve.  In this wreck, the at-fault driver was distracted by using FaceTime, and hit a stopped car at 65 miles per hour, resulting in the death of a five-year-old girl.  The same argument above is being used in this case: Apple’s failure to introduce technology that would have locked the phone or iPad while the automobile was traveling at a certain speed would have prevented the wreck.

The Problem: Proximity

To win a lawsuit for damages, you must prove proximate, or direct and foreseeable, cause.  In most cases so far, the courts have concluded that there is not a sufficient causal link between Apple’s decision not to implement their lock-out technology and the wreck itself.  The proximate cause begins and ends with the distracted driver’s bad conduct.

There is a legal duty of care among drivers to drive carefully and to cause no harm to other drivers or passengers on the road.  That duty is breached when the person uses smart phone technology and becomes distracted, and that misuse is the proximate cause of any resulting wreck.

The Technology: Why Not Implement It

Apple has not yet implemented lockout technology because it is impossible to distinguish the user of the phone, and not just the speed of the vehicle.  The current technology would lock out all cell phones in any moving vehicle—not just the driver’s, but all passengers’ as well.  That is not a technology that consumers would want, and would be a significant inconvenience to most customers.

What can be done to reduce driver distractions with cell phones?

As a responsible driver, you might look into applications that can help you avoid from the distractions associated with smart phones.  There are apps now available that can be used to lock out phones, including Canary, DriveScribe, Textbuster, DriveMode, and DriveOff.  There’s also an application called Control the Distraction Life 360 that has a feature that allows users to review how fast members of their family are driving and whether they are touching the screen or not.  This is particularly helpful for parents who want to check on their teenagers.

Car Accident Attorneys in South Carolina

What should you do if you are in a South Carolina car accident where the other driver was distracted while texting and driving, or using an application while driving?

Don’t sue Apple.  Instead, contact Elrod Pope Law Firm.  Our dedicated car accident lawyers in Chester, SC have the experience and knowledge to investigate distracted driving accidents. We fight aggressively on your behalf.  Call today to ask questions and to discuss the unique details of your particular case.

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