I came across a piece recently in the New York Times that notes that Apple may have a patent for technology to prevent texting while driving, but hasn’t used it. How is this so? In 2014 3,179 people were killed in car crashes involving distracted drivers, and even as our community continues to stress the dangerousness surrounding distracted driving, including texting while driving and using your cell phone, we continue to see cases and crashes involving distracted driving.
In fact, the discovery of this potential technology was because a lawsuit had recently been filed against Apple for product liability. The issue: Do cellphone makers have a duty to prevent devices from being used by drivers in illegal and dangerous ways? In particular this case involved a driver speeding down a highway in Texas, distracted because she was checking messages on her iPhone, and she crashed her car into a another killing the driver and a passenger, and leaving a child paralyzed—a horrific incident. Families of the victims have recently filed a product liability lawsuit against Apple, alleging that Apple knew its phones would be used for texting and did nothing to prevent this. According to the article, legal experts claim the suit is unlikely to succeed. Unfortunately, it will be hard to prove that the iPhone caused the fatal crash.
However, I think the bigger issue is, knowing that Apple may have a design for cellphones to prevent texting while driving. According to the NY Times, “companies have taken the position that text-blocking technology is embryonic and unreliable.” The argument is that if they could turn of the function, they may mistakenly shut off the phone entirely. I will admit that sometimes people do need their phones in certain emergencies when they are in their car.
The Lockout Patent
The lawyers in the lawsuit mentioned above discovered a patent filing by Apple made in 2008, and which was apparently granted in 2014. The patent is for a technology that would essentially “lock out” a driver’s phone through the use of sensors which would determine if the phone was moving and in use by a driver at the same time. If it was, then it would prevent certain functions from being used by an individual, such as texting. The patent even says this 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.”
Knowing there is a potential way to stem the rise of texting and driving, and using apps while driving, and that it is not being implemented is a little disheartening. I hope that there will be a solution to this in order to help us all and to prevent tragic car crashes like the one which brought the lawsuit forward. Technology is such a powerful and useful tool, and I do believe we can use it not only to keep us all connected with the world and to interact at a global level, but also to help us in our bad habits and to prevent auto accidents.
Until then, remember you can always put your phone on airplane mode when driving; it can stop the temptation. There are also devices which you can purchase that will provide the “lock out” function. One of them is manufactured by Cellcontrol.
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