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.