Last May, The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC blog reported on a car accident caused by a driver using Snapchat, while behind the wheel. Following this motor vehicle crash, the Spalding County State Court in Griffin, Georgia was tasked with ruling over a case that may have helped set a precedent for companies that create platforms, apps, and devices, who could be found responsible if their invention potentially causes a driver to become distracted while driving.
Snapchat Car Crash Lawsuit
The defendant in the case, Christal McGee, was 18 years old at the time of the September, 2016 Snapchat car accident. After being involved in the car crash, McGee posted a selfie on Snapchat that depicted her strapped to a gurney with a head wound, captioned, "Lucky to be alive." The photo went viral and sparked an investigation into her auto accident. Investigators found that McGee had been using a Snapchat filter that apparently records how fast the user is going at the time the picture is taken, and rewards the user with a 'trophy' if they are going more than 100 mph. It was discovered that McGee was going about 107 MPH with three passengers in the car, when Wentworth Maynard drifted into her lane and was rear-ended by McGee's speeding vehicle.
The case was looking to determine whether or not Snapchat should be held responsible for this motor vehicle crash, and if they should pay reparations to Wentworth-a former Uber driver- and his wife Karen, who were both in the car rear-ended by McGee. Maynard had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury from the auto accident. After deliberating, Judge Josh Thacker ended up dismissing the charges against Snapchat, saying the company was immune to the charges under the following clause from the 1996 Communications Decency Act:
"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."
McGee, however, has been charged with reckless driving, speeding, driving too fast for road conditions, and a felony charge of serious injury by vehicle. One of McGee's passengers was Heather McCarty, who was 27 and pregnant at the time of the distracted driving car crash, and had simply accepted a ride home from her co-worker, McGee.
The New York Daily News reports that while in the vehicle, McCarty said, "What are you doing? Slow down!" to McGee as she supposedly attempted to reach 100 mph. "I just remember screaming 'There's a car!' and I know we hit the back of his vehicle and I don't remember anything after that."
Michigan Distracted Driving Laws
The Michigan House of Representatives is in talks of creating a bill that will ban drivers from using their cell phone while behind the wheel, with the exception of Bluetooth and other hands-free technology. Drivers, MLive reports, would also be allowed to use their handheld device if they are pulled to the side of the road or in another area where they can remain stationary. Another exception is if the phone is securely mounted to the windshield or dashboard within easy reach. The bill will include banning the use of electronics such as handheld games, laptops, and GPS devices. Michigan drivers would even be prohibited from using the devices at stop signs and traffic lights.
The bill defines phone use as:
"Conducting a search; viewing, taking, or transmitting an image or video; playing games; performing a command or request to access an internet page; and composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving, or retrieving an e-mail message, text message, instant message or other electronic data." - H.R. 4466
Any motorists that are found guilty would have to pay a $250 fine for the first offense and $500 for the second. First responders such as EMTs, firefighters, and law enforcement officers however, would be free to use a two-way radio or citizens band (CB) radio service. The bill would also exempt citizens who are reporting an accident, road hazard, crime, or other emergencies.
Jim Santilli, chief executive officer of the Transportation Improvement Association, a Troy-based nonprofit supporting the introduction of this bill, has said that after California banned the use of handheld electronic devices, traffic fatalities dropped by 22% and deaths specifically related to drivers using handheld devices fell 47%. So, it stands to reason that Michigan could benefit from implementing a similar law, helping minimize social media car accident injuries and distracted driving fatalities on the road.
If you've ever tried to tell a teenager to put away their phone at the dinner table, you know how difficult the task is. Young adults and teens thrive on taking pictures, watching videos, and constantly checking social media. Hopefully however, with publicity from this Snapchat lawsuit and other social media car accident lawsuits and the possibility of new distracted driving laws being passed, distracted driving will be seen as a serious offense. Drivers may then be persuaded to turn of their mobile devices when behind the wheel, to prevent distracted driving accidents from happening. To nail this point on the head, a Snapchat spokesperson stated in relation to the McGee-Maynard case, "No Snap is more important than someone's safety." So, let's remember to practice safe driving habits and to leave the phone in the backseat, turned off, or in the hands of a passenger, next time we get ready to operate a moving vehicle.
As accidents caused by distracted drivers are occurring increasingly more often, it is important that drivers become aware of preventative and safety measures to deter them from using their electronics while operating a vehicle. Distracted driving causes just as much harm and as many fatalities as drunk driving and so, it's prevention should be treated just as importantly. If you or someone you know has been in an accident involving a distracted driver, please call The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.