Apple sued over fatal FaceTime car crash

Should distracting apps be disabled while we drive?

Apple sued over fatal FaceTime car crash

Garrett Wilhelm was allegedly chatting on his iPhone’s FaceTime app when he crashed into the back of James and Bethany Modisette’s car at 65mph, on a Texan road on Christmas Eve 2014.

Tragically, James and Bethany’s five-year-old daughter Moriah, who was sitting on the back seat, died from her injuries.

Now, Apple is being sued by the devastated parents for failing to block drivers from using FaceTime:

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Plaintiffs allege Apple Inc’s failure to design, manufacture, and sell the Apple iPhone 6 Plus with the patented, safer, alternative design technology already available to it that would automatically lock-out or block users from utilizing Apple Inc’s “FaceTime” application while driving a motor vehicle at highway speed, and failure to warn users that the product was likely to be dangerous when used or misused in a reasonably foreseeable manner and/of instruct on the safe usage of this and similar applications, rendered the Apple iPhone 6 defective when it left defendant Apple Inc’s possession, and were a substantial factor in causing plaintiffs’ injuries and decedent’s death.

What muddies the water a little is that Apple was issued a patent in April 2014 for just this type of technology, and has been proposing it since 2008, but has not yet built into it its operating system or apps.

There are third-party apps, like Focus, which “gently remind” you to stop using your phone if it detects you are in a moving vehicle – but they obviously have to be installed in advance by somebody who is concerned that they are forming a dangerous habit.

Of course, texting messages, reading emails or video-chatting while you are in charge of a motor vehicle is insane. You aren’t just putting yourself at risk, you are putting other innocent travellers in peril as well.

If you need any convincing, here’s a shocking video that was made to highlight the danger. Please note: the video is graphic and may be upsetting to some people.

PSA Texting while Driving U.K. Ad [HD]

I can’t begin to imagine the grief felt by Moriah’s parents, but I find it difficult to point a finger of blame at Apple for this. If someone is using any distracting app while they’re driving then they are the ones being reckless, not the app’s developers.

Texas is apparently one of the few American states that still allows motorists to use their phones while driving. Madness.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

6 comments on “Apple sued over fatal FaceTime car crash”

  1. Erzengel

    Sure, Apple can detect you're moving at a speed far greater than you can walk. But how the heck are they going to figure out if someone's the driver or the passenger? They're going to lose market share *fast* if passengers can't use their phones while the car is in motion.

    1. Alphaman · in reply to Erzengel

      If you check the patent that Apple filed, you'll see that this is precisely what they are trying to do — determine the position of the iPhone in the vehicle, and then block *only* the one behind the wheel. I think such tech will be dependent on the car manufacturers putting positioning tech in the vehicles themselves.
      Of course, on another note, if your head unit supports CarPlay, you currently *are* blocked from using FaceTime and other distracting technologies. Passengers' phones that aren't connected continue to have full use of their devices.

  2. Yousef Syed

    Tragedy is no reason to blame and punish the wrong party.
    Deflecting the responsibility from the driver to the company (any company), just because that's where the money happens to be, isn't justice.
    The motorist could just as easily have been reading the paper, eating an apple, tapping ash from their cigarette, fiddling with the radio or GPS, or talking to children in the back and any number of other distracting actions.
    Apple didn't force the driver to take/make the call, or initiate FaceTime.

  3. Christa

    Place the blame where it needs to be – on the stupid driver who made the conscious choice to use his phone while driving. Period.

  4. Doug

    Anyone who has had children knows that they can sometimes be the greatest distraction in the car – especially when they have to sit in the back in a child seat where you can't reach them. If we try to eliminate all "distractions", then drivers will grow tired and bored, also causing accidents. Also, I saw a case recently where a girl video'd a vehicle that was trying to run her and her friend off the road – such a video capability was a help in this case in catching the attacker. As Erzengel noted, how can an app know if you are the driver or the passenger? What if I'm in a Taxi? Why can't I use Facetime? Apple's application worked just as intended – it wasn't at fault here.

  5. StefanL

    "Emergency service workers are tired of pulling people from car wrecks with mobile phones embedded in their bodies, "

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