Licensed in Missouri and Kansas

Incentivizing Attentive Driving and Punitive Damages

Wired magazine published an article recently about patents applied for by Mazda to incentivize attentive driving. It describes a unique approach to the distracted driving problem. Where some car manufacturers are trying to automate driving and take humans out of the equation, the new Mazda tech will encourage humans to drive attentively. The patent spells out several ways Mazda hopes to do this, including cameras that detect distraction, piping engine sounds through the speakers when you drive too fast, and suggesting alternate routes that are more engaging.

But what would be the legal implications of such technology? If someone drives a car with it equipped, but still causes a crash because he was distracted, should that lead to punitive damages? In other words, if you have the technology to help keep your attention on the road, and you still cause a crash for not keeping your attention on the road, should their be a monetary punishment in a suit for compensation?

Punitive damages in Missouri are meant to punish and deter a defendant in a civil case from doing the same thing again. They are in addition to any damages that are mean to compensate victims of negligence. They are generally available when the defendant showed compete indifference to or conscious disregard for the safety of others.

Someone with the kind of technology for which Mazda applied a patent likely knows about the dangers of distracted driving. He or she bought a car to help them keep attention on the road. If they know distracted driving is unsafe, but drive distracted anyway and then cause a crash, its likely they’ve shown a conscious disregard for safety and should be punished.