Lawsuit Seeks to Get Smartphone Companies to Use $1 Billion to Educate About Distracted Driving

lawsuit against smart phone companiesThe Coalition Against Distracted Driving (CADD) filed a lawsuit against Apple, Samsung, Google, and Microsoft back in 2015 wanting an order that makes the companies implement a $1 billion program to educate drivers about the dangers of distracted driving while using a smartphone. CADD is a public interest group that states that its mission “is to promote effective and ongoing public education about the risks and dangers of distracted driving, thereby preventing injuries and saving lives.” As we are all aware, distracted driving continues to be a problem amongst drivers, especially when it comes to cell phone use.

The amended complaint highlights that the use of smartphones while driving is a “national epidemic.” It further states that “as Defendants are fully aware, the temptation to view the screen of a smartphone or smartwatch after receiving a notification is virtually irresistible, and sometimes completely irresistible, especially to a teen engaged in a texting conversation.” It goes on to state that the need to check our phone is an addictive or quasi-addictive behavior. When you add in the fact that according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “at any given daylight moment across America, approximately 660,000 drivers are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving” (a number that has held steady since 2010), we are faced with a terrible predicament.

And how bad is it really? A May 2015 survey published by AT&T found the following stats on cell phone use while driving:

  • 59% glance at texts while driving.
  • 32% glance at e-mails while driving.
  • 17% send or respond to e-mails while driving.
  • 25% glance at content on the Internet while driving.
  • 21% search for content on the Internet while driving.
  • 8% glance at videos while driving.
  • 12% take a video while driving.
  • 10% participate in a video chat while driving.
  • 17% take a photo or “selfie” while driving.
  • 26% glance at Facebook while driving.
  • 14% post on Facebook while driving.
  • 14% glance at Twitter while driving.
  • 8% send tweets while driving.
  • 7% glance at Pinterest while driving.
  • 4% post to Pinterest while driving.
  • 10% glance at Snapchat while driving.
  • 8% post to Snapchat while driving.
  • 13% glance at Instagram while driving.
  • 8% post to Instagram while driving.
  • 9% glance at YouTube while driving.
  • 38% of drivers engage in at least one social media app activity while driving.

Sadly, it looks like more than half of drivers are taking their eyes of the road to glance at their smartphones at least at some point.

The Complaint

A big focus of the complaint is that Defendants “know and can reasonably foresee” that many of their customers, particularly under the age of 18, use their smartphones and smartwatches for non-emergency purposes while driving. The complaint then goes on to list apps which require distracted driving, including Waze (an interactive mapping app) and Uber and Lyft (which require drivers to accept fares while driving). It also mentions an app in development called Navdy which would project Facebook, Twitter, and other apps on the windshield in a heads-up display (which is crazy to think about and potentially extremely dangerous.) The behaviors the complaint discusses, all go down to the driver’s inability to appreciate the fact that the use of a smartphone or smartwatch significantly reduces a person’s ability to focus or concentrate on driving, particularly in teens. This behavior becomes unsafe and quite dangerous. According to the complaint, the customers of smartphone companies “do not know, understand, realize, or appreciate that even one or two seconds of mental distraction are enough time to cause a crash.”

Interestingly, the complaint focuses on the Apple Watch as well, alleging that the watch is a greater distraction that a smartphone, particularly because it is harder to ignore notifications since it is strapped to the wrist.

Prayers for Relief

In this case, the Plaintiffs feel that the smartphone makers have a duty to warn existing and future customers of the risks and dangers associated with using their phones while driving. In the relief section of the complaint, it lays out what the warning the companies could include with their products, including:

  • Viewing your phone while driving is extremely dangerous.
  • Typing on your phone while driving is extremely dangerous.
  • Taking or viewing video or photos while driving is extremely dangerous
  • Removing a hand from the steering wheel to hold or manipulate a phone may cause loss of safe control of the vehicle.
  • Mental distraction caused by using a smartphone or smartwatch significantly reduces your ability to focus or concentrate on safe driving.
  • There is a delay of as long as 27 seconds or more before regaining normal reaction time and full driving awareness after you stop using a smartphone or smartwatch, including when you use voice commands. During the delay, you may not be driving safely.

In this suit, the Plaintiffs aren’t looking for damages; they are merely looking for the companies to prevent future distracted driving incidents that can turn deadly. It’s certainly a novel idea, and I can’t disagree with the sentiment here. Distracted driving is a dangerous and deadly behavior, and the creators of smartphones at this point know of the consequences and the behaviors of their consumers.

However, now some apps are telling consumers not use the app while driving, or at least Pokémon Go now includes a warning when you load the app. Maybe it is time for smartphone companies and apps to notify consumers of this. Maybe if the companies do so, people will pay more attention to their bad habits.

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