Apple sued over alleged use of FaceTime in fatal car crash

4 Jan 2017

Apple FaceTime app. Image: Radu Bercan/Shutterstock

Tech giant Apple is on the legal rack over the use of its FaceTime video calling feature, which allegedly distracted a driver, with fatal consequences.

The parents of a five-year-old girl who was killed in a car crash in California on Christmas Eve in 2014 are suing Apple for failing to introduce an iPhone safety feature it patented that year to discourage people from using the app whilst driving.

The driver, Garrett Wilhelm, allegedly used FaceTime on his iPhone 6 and failed to see the brake lights of the car ahead of him just before his car ploughed into the car of Bethany and James Modisette.

The couple, who were travelling with daughters Isabella and Moriah, were injured in the accident and five-year-old Moriah died in hospital.

It is alleged that when the iPhone was retrieved from the scene of the accident, the FaceTime app was still running.

The Modisettes are taking the case against Apple in Santa Clara superior court.

A red flag for all phone and app makers, not just Apple

They say Apple should be held accountable because it had a patent for a safer version of FaceTime that was designed to prevent people from using the video and voice calling app while driving.

The patent centres around a ‘lock out’ mechanism that disables the mobile device from performing certain functions like video calling or texting while driving.

This is the second such case over the involvement of the iPhone in car accidents in the past year.

Last year, Ashley Kubiak was convicted of negligent homicide for a fatal crash in Texas that killed another driver and paralysed a child because she was checking her iPhone.

The legal cases could spur Apple to introduce new safe-driving features in future products.

But it could also be the tip of the iceberg for other manufacturers, not just Apple.

The entire smartphone ecosystem, from hardware and operating systems to the messaging and video chat apps, could be considered a distraction for drivers.

And a new precedent is being set where the onus is clearly landing not only on questionable driver behaviour, but on the makers of the devices too.

Apple FaceTime app. Image: Radu Bercan/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years