Class Demands Apple Lock Out Texting for Drivers

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Accusing Apple of putting profits before safety, a California class action demands that the company put lock-out technology on its iPhones to prevent customers from texting while driving.

Lead plaintiff Julio Ceja says he was injured when a driver distracted by her iPhone rear-ended him at a stoplight. And he is far from alone, Ceja says in the Tuesday lawsuit in Superior Court.

Citing statistics from the National Safety Council and the California Highway Patrol, he estimates that iPhones cause 52,000 automobile accidents — including 312 fatalities — every year in California.

Ceja says Apple could trim those numbers significantly, because it developed lock-out technology in 2008, and patented it in 2014.

“Yet, fearful that such a device would cause it to lose valuable market share, Apple refuses to employ the technology, choosing instead to allow the massive carnage to occur,” Ceja says.

He seeks class certification on behalf of all Californians “whose safety has been put at risk” by Apple’s failure to deploy the technology since 2007, when it launched its market-leading cellphone.

Apple did not respond to an email request for comment Wednesday.

Ceja’s attorney Jonathan Michaels, with MLG Automotive Law in Newport Beach, said in a statement that laws against distracted driving are insufficient.

“The relationship consumers have with their phones is just too great, and the ability to slide under the eye of the law is just too easy,” Michaels said. “Embedding lock-out devices is the only solution.”

This is at least the third lawsuit seeking to hold Apple responsible for traffic injuries or deaths. In December last year a Silicon Valley blamed Apple’s FaceTime app for the death of a 5-year-old girl on Christmas Eve 2014. A 2105 lawsuit in Texas in 2015 claims a texting driver using an iPhone killed two women and paralyzed a young boy.

Ceja, who says only that he injured his back in the accident, says that when the texting driver emerged from her car, “she still had her iPhone in her hand, startled that she had just caused an accident.”

Ceja’s attorney filed the complaint with dramatic data detailing the growth, prevalence and danger of using cellphones while driving.

“Texting and driving is the single most deadly thing one can do behind the wheel of an automobile,” he wrote.

Cellphone use causes 26 percent of all U.S. traffic accidents, according to the National Safety Council, the lawsuit states.

Magnifying the problem, people “are increasingly developing a genuine compulsion for their smartphones, texting, Facebooking and gaming at every idle opportunity,” Cejas adds, citing studies by an addiction expert.

Responding to the pings and chirps of tweets and texts releases dopamine in drivers’ brains — which is especially hard for them to resist because driving fully engages the decision-making part of their brains, the prefrontal cortex.

Cejas estimates that 1.5 million U.S. drivers are texting at any given time and claims that driving while texting is six times more deadly than driving while intoxicated.

Every day “sixteen Americans die at the hands of texting drivers,” the lawsuit states. “By the time the responsive pleading to this complaint is due, another 480 Americans will have died from the practice.”

Legislation targeting distracted drivers won’t work, the lawsuit declares, citing Apple’s patent application as support. “Texting while driving has become so widespread it is doubtful that law enforcement will have any significant effect on stopping the practice,” the company told the Patent Office, according to the complaint.

Apple obtained Patent No. 8706143 in 2014 for a “Driver Handheld Computer Lockout Device” that can disable handheld computing devices using a “motion analyzer” and “scenery analyzer,” according to news reports.

Apple has not responded to media inquiries about the iPhone litigation, but it provided a statement for a New York Times story in September 2016.

“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.”

It took a similar tack in the Texas lawsuit last year, telling a federal magistrate judge that litigation seeking to hold cellphone companies liable for users’ traffic accidents are attempts to limit “personal responsibility,” according to Texas news reports.

Allowing such claims could lead to lawsuits against sellers of fast food, hot coffee and makeup — “virtually any object in a car that is capable of causing distraction,” Apple said in a motion to dismiss.

The magistrate agreed the lawsuit should be dismissed. A U.S. district judge is weighing the magistrate’s recommendation.

Ceja seeks class certification, an injunction, and damages for unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business acts and practices.

“The public is a risk — and will remain at risk — until Apple is forced to employ the very technology it possesses to prevent drivers from using its iPhones while driving,” the complaint states.

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