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Apple sued over car accident linked to texting

Commentary: Claiming that he was hit by a woman who was distracted by her iPhone, a California man insists that Apple should have a lock-out mechanism on all its phones.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Responsible? How responsible?

Sean Gallup, Getty Images

At what point does technology become responsible for a human being's actions?

How much should those who make phones and other gadgets ensure that those gadgets won't be used in a dangerous manner?

Last week, a lawsuit accusing Apple of willfully selling products that encourage texting and driving was filed in California.

The suit, obtained by Ars Technica, has been filed on behalf of Julio Ceja. His lawyers claim Ceja was injured by a driver who hit his car from behind. That driver was allegedly distracted by her iPhone and was even still clutching it as she got out of the car.

The suit isn't looking for monetary compensation for Ceja. Instead, it demands that sales of all iPhones are halted until the technology is implemented, as Apple is "putting profit before consumer safety."

The suit claims that texting and driving is out of control in California and that "at the center of the epidemic is Apple's immensely popular iPhone."

It says that Apple has long had the ability to insert lockout technology into its phones and was, indeed, granted a patent on it in 2014.

The patent describes "a handheld computing device can provide a lock-out mechanism without requiring any modifications or additions to a vehicle by using a motion analyzer, a scenery analyzer and a lock-out mechanism."

Some wonder, though, whether it would work. Phone manufacturers say they can't make lockout precise enough, so that it doesn't affect, for example, other phones in the car.

A similar argument about forcing Apple to have a lockout was used in a recent lawsuit involving a woman who was killed after a driver struck her while using FaceTime on his iPhone.

Neither Apple nor Ceja's lawyers immediately responded to a request for comment.

Distracted driving is an enormous problem. The lawsuit, however, accuses Apple of causing "the death of approximately 312 Californians each year." Ceja's lawyers translate the Federal Highway Administration figures and Apple's market share as meaning that "at least 52,000 automobile accidents in California [are] caused by Apple's iPhones each year."

Government figures suggest that in 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in crashes involving distracted drivers.

But if something is to be done, what should it be? Highway deaths are up by 10.4 percent in the first half of 2016.

Who should take responsibility? And how much?

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