There are times when we love to see the big boys getting sued, yet this is not that time. When I saw the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jan/03/apple-lawsuit-facetime-car-crash-iphone-patent), I had to wonder whether I had to laugh out loud, or just let my head hang down and shake it slowly. I get it, when a bad thing overcomes you and your family, the one you sue is the one who has the cash to settle or pay largely (read: deep pockets). That part I learned in my first week of Torts, so the fact that a couple goes for Apple makes sense, yet it does not. You see, in this global community there are these pesky things called ‘traffic laws’, so to make a point I decided to take a look at the traffic laws of California and that was a trip so psychedelic, that no amount of mushrooms could ever equal it. It all started with the California Driver Handbook (at https://www.dmv.ca.gov/web/eng_pdf/dl600.pdf).
I was off to a great start, because on page 21 we see ‘distracted driving‘ with “Anything that prevents you from operating your vehicle is a distraction” and it mentions ‘Visual-Eyes off the road‘ and ‘Cognitive-Mind of the road‘, so it seems that there was a good start. Then on page 86 we see the things that you must not do, which states ‘Do not operate a cell-phone without the use of a hands-free device‘ as well as ‘Do not drive a motor vehicle whilst using a wireless Communication device to write, send or read text-based communications‘ as well as ‘do not drive a vehicle equipped with a video monitor, if the monitor is visible to the driver and displays anything other than vehicle information‘. So, I saw the ground pretty much fall away from me whilst I realised that the first mention was ‘Do not smoke at any time when a minor is in the vehicle. You can be fined up to $100‘. Is this for real? Smoking is fined, yet the more hazardous issues are not dealt with? I cried wolf almost too soon. The DMV (at https://www.dmv.com/distracted-driving-penalties) gives us for California: $20, so we now know that we can plan for the accidental execution of ex-wives, people we do not like and people with a price on their head, because California has decided that this act of ‘gross’ negligence carries a fine of $20, or perhaps $40, because it could be proven that both visual and cognitive were transgressed upon. We just need to look really really sad, remorseful and get a great lawyer. If you have any such plans, after the deed is done in for example San Francisco, you should call Chris Dolan of the Dolan Law Firm (at https://dolanlawfirm.com/), they might be able to help you all the way avoiding jail.
So, as some places take distracted driving serious, there is a clear indication that plenty of states do not. This is upsetting in a few ways as the level of distracted driving (video chatting whilst driving) amounts to nothing less than manslaughter. Now the California Penal Code gives us Penal Code 192(a) voluntary manslaughter and Penal Code 192(b), involuntary manslaughter. The second one is set apart as it does not require intent to kill. I thought that we were in the clear with voluntary manslaughter as there is the option of vehicular manslaughter. Although here we see the needed:
A. in an unlawful way (not amounting to a felony), with or without gross negligence;
B. during the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner, or
C. knowingly causes the accident for financial gain (which is also a violation of California’s automobile insurance fraud laws).
Now part c seems not to be the case. In my fictive example the prosecutor would require proof. Good luck getting that part from my banks in Riyadh! Hah!
Yet part A and part B are still filled at present. The issue is that distracted driving is not said to be a felony or unlawful. In that regard video chat driving is gross negligence through common sense, yet the California driving rules and the DMV do not state it as such (as far as I can tell at present) and as such someone’s 5 year old little daughter ended up with a dead one, for the fine (as currently stated in the DMV penalties list) no larger than the price of merely 4 MacDonald happy meals? How screwed up does that sound? The fact that the DMV could have clearly set in motion the change that caught with more than one element of distracted driver means an automatic suspension of the driver’s license for no less than 5 years as well as setting the bar towards a felony and not keep it at a misdemeanour, an act that would clearly be turning faces real quick. As minors and adults seem to worship their cars and their needs to drive somewhere, setting that change in motion could have resulted in a living child, very likely loads of non-dead individuals because of acts of utter stupidity. The fact that the DMV was very willing to add statistics to the drivers guide shows that this is a massive amount of lives that could be saved.
Let’s face it, in the world of common sense, video chatting whilst driving seems to be one of the more stupid acts to pursue. It is at the end that I disagree with Nora Freeman Engstrom, a Stanford law professor, who states “Apple’s inaction in the face of that knowledge may not trigger liability here. But it may well expose Apple to liability down the road”, in that I disagree as the pressure should have been on the irresponsible driver from the very start and the driving laws should have been adjusted as such for a long time. It is time to set the blame where it should have been, with the driver!
Now, we all understand that the personal injury lawyers tend to have a go at those with the deeper pockets, yet how fair is that? Actually, fairness does not come into question, the law was already clear on distracted driving, it just needs to become a little more clear and let those relying on distracted driving either have a really good insurance, or let them feel the sting of prison when harm comes to victims due to their negligent actions. In that we can agree that texting, video chatting whilst operating a vehicle will always have a negative impact on the lives of people they hit.
The fact that this is not addressed on a national level is equally disturbing. When we see statistics like ‘Every year, about 421,000 people are injured in crashes that have involved a driver who was distracted in some way‘, whilst we see in addition, that ‘64% of all the road accidents in the United States had a cell phone involved‘, so any clear change will have an adverse effect on those two statistics. That seems clear enough a reason to make distracted driving a much harsher transgression with a penalty and fine large enough making it a felony. In that logic, the misconception that people can drive and text or video chat is a mismanaged perception that should be addressed as soon as possible, or better stated, with the statistics shown this should have been addressed years ago. So in that we do get that the parents want to lash out against the guilty parties, yet we don’t get that this is done, making guilty a party that had not implemented a patent, to be more precise a patent that might have gotten itself circumvented as well as the clarity that any usage in combination with driving is already defined as dangerous. The fact that the State of California regards this to be a $20 transgression makes the situation just sad and not really a valid guilt trip for Apple, Google or any other Android mobile smartphone brand.
You see, in itself, the article is not that important. So someone is suing Apple, la di da! Yet behind all the fun, frolic and charade is the hidden issue of responsibility. We seem to avoid responsibility, feign unawareness or advocate stupidity the difference in this case seems to be mere semantics depending on your point of view. There is a decent argument to be made that the law makers have been too lax, yet to what extent? To what extent can any nation continue when common sense is thrown out of the window? It is an equal valid view that not the law, but the person in situations can be the point of decision, yet when we decide to avoid that, we do get to spend life in jail, especially when our own negligence and lack of common sense gets other people killed. There is no ‘I’m sorry‘ and ‘I thought it was OK‘ or ‘It was not illegal‘, I especially like that part. Well, I got my in-laws killed, but it was not illegal, so have a nice day Justice! We can even argue whether killing a person we know is less punishable then killing a stranger, but that is a discussion for another day. What is very much the issue is that Moriah Modisette died because Garrett Wilhelm, of Gainesville thought that he could safely drive a car on the interstate at 65 Mph whilst using FaceTime. Yet, this did not happen in Santa Clara, it happened in Texas on interstate 35W, near mile marker 81. Now we see a change, because Texas has harsher rules, and here we see “Denton bans texting and driving on city streets, but the city ordinance does not include the interstate“, so now we get a new ballgame, even as we see “Manslaughter is a second-degree felony in Texas and carries with it the possibility of up to a $10,000 fine and a prison sentence of at least two years, but no more than 20 years” yet the DMV states that distracted driving applies to Drivers younger than 18, which Garrett Wilhelm was not, so is it mere luck that he is up on a manslaughter charge? How come that death gets a different value, that stupidity is rewarded in some states? The fact that there are rules, regulations and city ordinances all giving a different value to this serious transgression. Now, as an Australian I accept that the US has different values and even though they too work on the premise of Common Law, doing so on a national level is not easy. Yet should this matter not have been dealt with more severe and on a national level? Especially when we see the statistics and a massive gap as to how the transgression and the implied consequence of the transgression holds up?
In case of Garrett Wilhelm, the trial date got set in the end to 26th September 2016, whilst the report of June stated that a request for continuance is to be expected, so over two years later there is still no justice for Moriah Modisette which would drive any parent insane with grief, rage, bitterness and sadness. All these emotions at the same time would be devastating. It still is not fair to have a go at the mobile maker, but that is only my personal view.
Perhaps it is time for someone like Bill O’Reilly to champion another law, just like he did with Jessica’s Law. Perhaps the US needs a Moriah Law, a law that makes the use of any mobile, other than hand free voice calling whilst driving a car a felony and it would be a law that covers all if the US, every state, regardless whether it is in the city or not. They shouldn’t need a law like this, yet the acts of Garrett Wilhelm (who is not the only one mind you) clearly state other whiles.