iPhones kill people, but they don't have to

Photo credit: AMERICAN SAFETY COUNCIL

An open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and all Apple employees:

How many people did your company kill last week?

If you said zero, you're in denial. And that denial will continue to slaughter humans until you're willing to face reality.

This week, my iPhone prompted me to install a software upgrade. After doing so, I was asked if I wanted to enable a function that, when I'm driving, will reply to texts and other messages with a note saying that I'm driving and will reply later.

Really? I had to opt in?

I should have had to opt out of such a basic, potentially lifesaving technology.

In fact, when the question was posed to me, it should have come with a dire warning akin to those on U.K. cigarette packs along the lines of "Failure to agree to use this auto-reply could result in your death or that of innocent people."

For decades, the vehicle mortality rate in the U.S. dropped precipitously, thanks to hugely safer cars and trucks coupled with some major efforts at changing behaviors in the form of Buckle Up campaigns and grass-roots work by the likes of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

But a couple of years ago, the trend reversed. More people are dying on our roads than before. Some blame more miles driven and higher speed limits, but all the safety experts agree that one of the key factors, probably THE key one, is distracted driving.

We all know the issue. We also know that technology can help stop it. So why aren't we deploying that technology aggressively? Denial by the cellphone makers.

An individual who wants to drive a vehicle faces more regulation and individual testing than the Las Vegas shooter did in accumulating his pile of guns. I don't say that to comment on gun control, but rather to remind us that we all know and admit that a vehicle on the road is potentially a very dangerous thing. It can kill.

That's why automakers have loaded up their cars and trucks with safety features. I consider it irresponsible for cellphone makers not to do likewise. They know they could save lives. How can they justify failing to do so?

I know they prefer not to have their products linked with traffic deaths. Heck, automakers were in denial for decades, too, hiding behind the claim that safety didn't sell. But they finally admitted the reality of traffic fatalities, and our roads are safer as a result.

Currently, safety doesn't sell cellphones, either. But the day could come when an unsafe phone is harder to sell. Mr. Cook, don't you want to be ahead of that curve?

Or do you just not care?

Sincerely,

James B. Treece

News Editor James B. Treece oversees Automotive News' coverage of auto retailing.

You can reach James B. Treece at jtreece@crain.com

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