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Should Technology Companies Be Held Accountable for Distracted Driving Accidents?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reports that distracted driving has now become an epidemic. In 2014 alone, 3,179 Americans were killed in distracted driving-related accidents. The number of injuries related to these accidents each year, more than 390,000, is astronomical and continues to grow. While drivers choose to stare at their phone, surf the net, or send text messages while driving, some now wonder whether or not technology companies should be held responsible for these tragic accidents.

Blaming Tech Companies for Distracted Driving Accidents

Can a technology company, such as a smartphone maker, be held liable for a distracted driving crash? That very question was raised in a series of lawsuits filed against Apple and other tech companies following some devastating and often fatal distracted driving accidents.

In 2013, 20-year old David Riggs was killed in Oakdale, Minnesota when his scooter was struck by a distracted driver. The driver of the other vehicle had been texting on his iPhone. The victim’s father, Craig Riggs, filed suit against Apple claiming that the technology company could have prevented the accident.

In December 2016, Apple was sued once again following a fatal distracted driving accident in Texas. A 5-year-old girl was killed after the vehicle in which she was riding was struck by a driver who was using FaceTime on his iPhone. The lawsuit also claims that Apple had the ability to stop users from using their phones while driving, yet chose not to do this.

In a similar sort of case, but not involving Apple, a Texas family is suing ridesharing company Lyft for failing to prevent a deadly distracted driving accident. In October 2015, the Edwards family called an Uber to take them to an engagement party. The Uber driver, who also drives for Lyft, tried to accept a Lyft ride while en route to their destination. While distracted with his phone, the driver caused a tragic accident, killing two passengers and injuring several others. A lawsuit was filed against Lyft alleging that the company failed to design and release a safe app.

Technology to Prevent Distracted Driving Accidents

It would be difficult to hold technology companies accountable in these cases or even allege fault if there were no way to prevent distracted driving. The allegations raised in each lawsuit to date point out exactly the opposite. The fact is that these technology companies do have the means to prevent these dangerous crashes, using technology, and they choose not to use what they have.

According to a New York Times report published last year, Apple owns a patent for technology that was designed to prevent texting while driving. They’ve just decided not to use it. Apple, along with wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T, even caution against distracted driving and its dangers, meaning they understand the risks that these products and technology pose on the road.

Even the National Safety Council (NSC) became directly involved as early as 2012 when they sent a letter to the nation’s major wireless carriers. In the letter, the NSC asked carriers to prevent drivers from using technology while driving. This request was ignored. The suit involving Lyft claims that technology exists to prevent the app from running while others are in play, which would have prevented this distraction.

Hands-Free vs. Hand-Held Smartphone Use

Some technology companies argue that they have produced ways to make their devices safe with hands-free use. Instead of disabling devices while in a vehicle, a consumer can control them “hands-free.” Unfortunately, not having a device in-hand doesn’t solve the problem or make driving safer.

When driver’s use voice control with their smartphones, they are just as distracted as they are when they are holding them, sometimes more so. When dictation isn’t accurate, this can lead to even further frustrations while someone is driving. In the end, it’s not the driver’s hands that are distracted, but rather their brain.

Liability in Distracted Driving Cases

Of the cases we named, and several other similar ones still pending, no technology company has yet been found responsible for a distracted driving accident. While there are some apps that a user can download to stop technology use while driving, these are voluntary and unlikely to solve the underlying problem.

It is just a matter of time before one of these cases is heard and makes its way to a jury. If you or a loved one have been impacted by a distracted driving accident in Connecticut, contact the experienced distracted driving accident attorneys at The APEX Law Firm, LLC to protect your rights and discuss your legal options. Contact us today for your free consultation in Hartford County at (860) 900-0900 or visit us at www.apexlawfirmct.com.