Snapchat Speed Filter Blamed for Young Men’s Deaths in 123 MPH Crash

Cell phones and cars are both evolving quickly and, all too often, their latest tricked-out features are being used at the same time. While high-quality infotainment systems and top-of-the-line safety technology show that the digital world and the driving world can co-exist, it seems that there’s a never-ending list of tragedies associated with technology use in cars. Car safety is more important than ever.

Typically, vehicle operators who used their phones during a drive are held accountable for any crashes and injuries that result. However, a 2017 tragedy left the family of one teenager wondering — could these apps, designed to keep us constantly reaching for our screens, also be at fault? 

2017 saw a Snapchat tragedy

An NPR article recently recapped the tragic 2017 deaths of three teenage boys. In May of that year, the young men had piled into a car and were speeding through long, corn-lined roads in Walworth County, Wisconsin. As the driver, a boy of only 17 years, reached higher and higher speeds, one passenger pulled out his phone. 

He clicked into the app Snapchat, a photosharing platform that allows users to easily spice up their captures with filters. The particular one he sought out was the famous “speed” filter, an overlap that displays how fast you are moving at the time of the picture. Just before the crash, his screen read “123 mph.”

Before any more posts could be made, the driver lost control of his vehicle. The car shot off the road and hit a tree, killing all three riders. 

The last snap led to a lawsuit by the boy’s parents

The absolute tragedy of the situation was undeniable, but some aspects of the case sparked debate. If Snapchat was the boys’ primary motivation for reaching high speeds — with the parents saying they were “hoping for engagement and attention from followers on the messaging app,” according to NPR — could the app be partially to blame for the accident? 

In the past, tech companies have been overwhelmingly protected by the Communications Decency Act, a law that states that apps are not held responsible for what users choose to post on their platforms. However, representatives for the boys asserted that it was not something that was posted that caused the problem — it was the design of a feature that celebrated achieving high speeds. 

To the shock of many, a federal appeals court granted the driver’s family the right to sue Snap Inc. The landmark decision, dubbed Lemmon v. Snap, has paved the way for these families to get a sense of justice. It also has many tech and car companies rethinking their designs and placing a renewed focus on car safety. 

What Lemmon V. Snap teaches about car safety

According to the Washington Post, Snapchat’s speed filter is no longer available for tracking car speeds. However, this change comes far too late for the Lemmon family and other victims of the 2017 crash. It also does not rectify many other driving temptations that millions face on the road each day. 

Whether it’s the instant gratification of seeing an MPH filter ticking up, or hearing the alluring bell of a notification, our cell phones are constantly vying for our attention. And though most cars entering the market in 2021 offer hands-free and Bluetooth technology designed to keep our eyes on the road, the quick glances it takes to set up these features can sometimes be deadly. 

It’s always wisest to avoid your phone altogether while driving. Tuck it into a cup holder or throw it in the back seat. But, if you do need to communicate with someone, take advantage of all safety features or — better yet — pull off into a parking lot. 

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