Driverless Cars

Forcing Apple to Shut Down Drivers' Phones Is a Terrible Idea

Jerks who want to FaceTime while they drive will always find a way, alas.


Inti St Clair Blend Images/Newscom

Pretty soon, driverless cars will make the rather fierce debate over distracted driving a moot point. But the debate over outsourcing decision making to technology isn't going away. Over at The New York Times website this week I make the argument that forcing Apple to disable drivers' phones is a terrible idea:

You almost certainly already rely on technology to help you be a moral, responsible human being. From old-fashioned tech like alarm clocks and calendars to newfangled diet trackers or mindfulness apps, our devices nudge us to show up to work on time, eat healthy, and do the right thing. But it's nearly impossible to create a technological angel on your right shoulder without also building in a workaround that is vulnerable to the devil on your left. Put another way: Any alarm clock user who denies that he has heard the siren song of the snooze button is lying.

Technology can help us make good decisions, but outsourcing good decision-making to technology, tech companies or the government isn't just a bad idea — it's impossible.

People already know that distracted driving is dangerous. They tell pollsters so all the time. Because of this clear customer demand, smartphone makers offer safety conscious drivers a variety of ways to minimize distraction, from handsfree headsets and voice command to mute buttons and airplane mode.

But automatically disabling certain apps in a fast-moving vehicle — as the grieving family of 5-year-old distracted driving victim Moriah Modisette is suing to force Apple to do — won't work. One of the great glories of the smartphone era is the ability to work, chat and read while on mass transit or riding shotgun, so there's no way to build an accelerometer-based shut-down unless you also add an opt-out. And if there's an opt-out, then fallible, foolish humans will always use it to thwart the original intent.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. Moriah’s Law.

  2. Result: Good news for Samsung, Apple stock tanks.

  3. Arrgh, the NYT comments. “Save us government intervention, you’re our only hope.” God save us from these stupid cunts. It seems most of this could be addressed through existing civil liability law and we certainly don’t need criminal penalties or restrictions on manufacturers.

  4. There are plenty of sound reasons one might use their smartphone while their vehicle engine is running.

    Trying to be rational with a parent that has lost a child or expect rational behavior from them is an exercise in futility. I have enormous sympathy, cant really imagine what they are dealing with, but catering to their irrational behavior is what gets us ‘little cutie’s laws’, lifetime offender registries and accident victims being unable to contact emergency personnel.

    As bad as I feel for these parents the answer is no. Just no.

    1. Their irrational behavior has sucked out every last drop of sympathy I otherwise would have had.

    2. no sympathy….its life and its a bitch….fuck off slaver.

      Thats the response you should have suthen to irrational twits.

      You shouldn’t coddle these people. They thrive on it.

  5. BobSmith FL 1 day ago
    I agree….there is no situation where someone should be Face Timing and driving, ever. But it is not the responsibility of Apple to fix this. It is the responsibility of our law makers to address this?with tougher fines and laws that will discourage this behavior.

    Laws! They’re magic! there’s nothing that more laws can’t fix!

    @KMW: have you looked at sloopy’s follow-up letter about the troubling aspects of yesterday’s Skenazy article? Questions of integrity ought to be dealt with, either by verifying or retracting.

    1. Apple Inc. wishes it were as efficient, effective, and historically important as the Federal Government of the United States of America.

    2. I like Lenore’s articles, because it gives me an opportunity to pontificate about how kids these days are pussies, and to lament the demise of the good old days when kids played unsupervised with power tools and old refrigerators because their parents were all passed out drunk. I don’t know what you’re complaining about.

      1. Oh God, I remember the PSA’s on TV about throwing out old fridges…it was like unto releasing a rabid civit cat in a kindergarten.

    3. What’s the issue, misrepresentation of the facts?

      1. Possibly. Or whether there actually ARE any facts.

        1. Interesting, a quick search turned up jack nothing for me. I hope she’s not fabricating stories or being extremely sloppy because I like her stuff for the most part.

          1. Well, we’ve dug up that it was Corona, not Riverside, which explains why we can’t find a Riverside cop named Doty. Nothing else is yet verifiable. Maybe fake, maybe a complete lack of fact-checking.

            1. There is a guy claiming to be Mike Tang commenting on Lenore’s blog. He says he’ll email the transcript to anyone that asks. Of course Lenore should have included the transcript in her article.

              1. sloopy requested it. Let’s see what else she got wrong.

                1. This is so not cool. Especially after Sloopy named his 2nd and 3rd kids “Mangu” and “Lenore”.

              2. He never replied.

                The judge is not on the CA superior court website. In fact, no judge by that name can be found d anywhere online.

            2. The cop who supposedly picked the kid up was named “Doty?” As in “doting parent?” Hmm. Remarkable.

              As for Corona/Riverside, pfft…one Inland Empire cesspit is the same as the next.

    4. so whats the difference from face timing and someone being next to you? Should we make everyone drive alone? should everyone in the car except driver be gagged and have a brown bag over their head?


      I for one spend more time looking for trolls than looking at the road which shows how stupid, aggressive policing of stupid arbitrary laws are. I would be far better driver if i wasn’t worried about being trolled by a troll in IL.

  6. Just do what I do: keep a cardboard cut-out of a smartphone screen in the car and hold it up to your face while yelling to other drivers at stoplights.

  7. In the case of FaceTime and other apps involving a camera, there is an opportunity to use the camera, along with deep-learning algorithms, to literally look at the user and environment and discern whether the user in view is driving.


    1. You know who else enjoyed a good deep algorithm?…

      1. Tipper Gore?

        1. *vomits, then reluctantly applauds*

  8. Although I think the author of this piece is an extremely intelligent person I have to disagree. When someone’s actions put my or my love ones lives in danger then those actions need to cease. Although government making another rule makes me physically ill the other choices are not much better(like dragging them out of their cars and beating some sense into them). Have you ever been in an argument in a car and watch the drivers actions. Same things happens on cell phones. Most people can’t do one thing well much less two or three.

    1. And you really think government fiat is going to make them stop? It’s done so well this long…

    2. Do you count looking at the road, turning the steering wheel, and accelerating/braking all at the same time one single thing or three separate things?

      1. How about “Action(s) directly related to the operation of a motor vehicle”….unlike anything to do with a g__d__n motherf___ing cell phone.

        1. Hashem isn’t real.

  9. Given how often it fails to read my fingerprint having a negative feature automatically kick in when the phone reads a condition seems like a risky precedent. What happens when you need that feature to save lives, just reduce damage to yourself, or you just want to use the feature safely and now it refuses to work? Does it stop at FaceTime, what about texting, calls, internet access?

    1. what about texting, calls, internet access?

      You can’t be trusted because a little girl died one time.

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