A products liability lawsuit filed against Apple, Meador v. Apple, alleges that Apple had the patented technology to prevent a fatal distracted driving collision, but failed to implement it. The action arises from a 2013 motor vehicle collision in Texas. A 21-year-old driver, Ashley Kubiak, was texting on her iPhone while driving down the highway. Distracted, she slammed into a sports utility vehicle making a left hand turn in front of her vehicle causing the SUV to careen into oncoming traffic, killing the driver, a passenger and leaving a 7 year old boy paralyzed. Kubiak was convicted of negligent homicide due to her cellphone use and sentenced to 5 years probation. According to her lawyer, she now keeps her phone in the back seat of her car.
A Federal lawsuit filed by the family claimed Apple knew its iPhone would be used for texting, but did nothing to prevent Ms. Kubiak, a consumer, from texting dangerously. An important piece of evidence in the case showed that in 2008 Apple filed for a patent on technology designed to prevent texting while driving; the patent was granted in 2014. The patent involves a technology feature that would lockout a driver’s phone with certain sensors that determine when the phone is moving and in use by a driver of a motor vehicle. In the patent application Apple stated why the lockout feature device was necessary: “Texting while driving has become so widespread that it is doubtful law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice. Teens understand that texting while driving is dangerous, but this is often not enough motivation to end the practice.” It is not clear why Apple has not developed the lockout technology. A spokeswomen for the National Safety Council stated that the “technology exists – we just don’t have the stomach to implement it.”
The National Highway Safety Administration released fatality statistics for 2015 which indicate that traffic deaths had increased over 2014, which reverses a general downward trend since 2007. Not surprisingly, the largest percentage of increases were due to distracted driving.
Meanwhile, there are free apps available that limit or block texting. We should all take advantage of this opportunity to save lives.
By Beth Cole