Snapchat gained popularity by allowing its users to share pictures and short video clips with each other in an ephemeral, disappearing manner. It also pioneered the concept of letting users overlay stickers and other data on their creations. These included names of cities and landmarks, local weather conditions, or the user’s present speed as determined by GPS. In the wake of several lawsuits and fatal crashes, the latter filter is now in the process of being removed from the app, according to Buzzfeed reports.
First introduced in 2013, the feature would overlay a speed reading in kilometers or miles per hour over a picture or video taken by the user. After some backlash, the feature was later modified to only display readings up to 35 miles per hour, and would show a “Don’t Snap and Drive” warning alongside the speed.
Multiple fatal crashes have been tied to the app’s feature, with drivers or passengers using the speed filter prior to impact. Most notable perhaps is the case of a wreck in Wisconsin in 2017, in which 17-year-old driver Jason Davis tore down local streets while passengers took snaps at speeds up to 123 mph, according to The Washington Post. The drive ended when the vehicle left the road and hit a tree, at an estimated speed of 113 mph. The crash claimed the lives of not only Davis, but passengers Landen Brown and Hunter Morby as well.
A lawsuit was subsequently filed, with Morby and Brown’s parents claiming that the app’s speed feature encouraged reckless speeding. The case was initially dismissed, but was reinstated by the US. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Just over one month hence, and Snapchat has begun removing the feature entirely.
Speaking on the feature, a Snapchat spokesperson told BuzzFeed news that usage had dropped to minimal levels, which was what prompted the feature’s removal. The spokesperson stated that “Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether.”
The legal team for the families involved in the lawsuit welcomed the change and that Snapchat had decided to “take down the speed filter.” In a statement, attorneys said “While this will no doubt serve the safety of the motoring public in the future, it does not remedy Snapchat’s choice to create and distribute the speed filter it in the past,” and reiterated their intention to pursue justice in the pending case. The trial will continue in the US District Court in California on August 2, though Snap Inc., the company that owns the Snapchat app, has already filed to dismiss the case once more, reports NPR.
The feature has been controversial for some time. The Drive has covered Snapchat-related driving incidents for years, all over the United States. A case from Georgia in 2016 left a man brain damaged after a woman behind the wheel of a Mercedes hit his car while using Snapchat at over 100 mph. Another galling example is the Dodge driver in 2017 that was pulled over by police, who indicated he was traveling at 112 mph “for Snapchat.”
Whether or not the tech company will be found liable for encouraging reckless driving will be fought bitterly in the courts. Thanks to Snapchat’s decision to remove the filter, though, company executives can at least rest easy that responsibility for future crashes won’t be laid at their door.
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