Recently, a Georgia judge dismissed negligence claims against mobile app company Snapchat in a distracted driving case.
According to reports by Fox News Tech1 and MotorTrend2, the case involved a two-car crash in 2015, in which a 19-year-old motorist was traveling 107 miles per hour when she struck another vehicle, causing the man inside to suffer permanent brain damage. At the time of the crash, the teen driver was using a Snapchat “speed filter,” which allowed users to clock how fast they were moving.
After the teen driver was attended by emergency personnel, she snapped a selfie with the Snapchat app of her strapped to a back board, wearing a neck brace, with blood dripping down her forehead. The “snap” was captioned, “Lucky to be alive.”
The man whose car she struck sued both the teen, her parents, and the Snapchat app, claiming the app’s makers should have predicted misuse of the app, including distracting driving.
Judge Says the Communications Decency Act Grants Snapchat Immunity
The judge in the case disagreed. He sided with Snapchat, ruling that the 1996 Communications Decency Act gives Snapchat immunity from liability.
The Act reads in part: “No provider or user or an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
The judge reasoned that Snapchat is the publisher of the app and is thus immune from liability for any information published to the app by a user.
The man injured in the crash has said he will appeal the judge’s ruling. The case against the teen driver who allegedly caused the accident remains pending.
Distracted Driving Is a Serious Problem
New Jersey motor vehicle accident lawyer Rand Spear explains, “The Act in question was passed in 1996 — an era well before smartphones and mobile apps. Today, distracted driving has been called an epidemic, and it plays a role in a growing number of serious and fatal motor vehicle accidents.”
In 2015, traffic-related deaths rose 7.2 percent, which is the biggest increase in 50 years. 2 According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distracted driving crashes jumped by 8.8 percent in 2015. In one survey, the average driver spent 0.4 miles on the phone for every 11 miles driven. Traffic safety experts point out that it is actually impossible for the human brain to “multitask.” Instead of performing two activities — such as driving and texting — simultaneously, the brain actually switches rapidly between the two tasks, resulting in a lower amount of concentration on both tasks.
1 Fox News Tech http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2017/01/23/judge-rules-snapchat-immune-from-distracted-driver-claim.html
2 Motor Trend http://www.motortrend.com/news/snapchat-cleared-distracted-driving-case/
3 Biggest increase in 50 years http://fortune.com/2016/09/14/distracted-driving-epidemic/