Snapchat has begun removing its "speed filter" feature after it was blamed for encouraging dangerous speeding by safety advocates and families of car crash victims.
It's not clear when Snap Inc. made the decision to remove the feature that records speed in real time, but NPR first reported the news on Thursday.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, a Snap spokesperson confirmed the company was eliminating the feature, saying the sticker was hardly being used anymore by the app's 500 million monthly active users.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of our Snapchat community, and we had previously disabled the filter at driving speeds," the spokesperson said. "Today the sticker is barely used by Snapchatters, and in light of that, we are removing it altogether."
NPR reported that the company began removing the feature starting this week, but it will be a couple more weeks before it disappears entirely from the app.
Snapchat first introduced the controversial feature in 2013, but modified some of its aspects after the backlash and lawsuits. It changed it from a filter to a less prominent sticker and added a "don't snap and drive" warning while the feature was in use. It also limited the top driving speed at which a snap could be shared to 35 mph, according to NPR.
The feature's removal came a month after an appeals court ruled that the company can be sued over the speed filter's role in contributing to a crash that killed three young men in Wisconsin in 2017.
The parents of the two of the crash victims sued Snap in 2019, alleging that the app's speed filter encouraged their sons to drive at dangerous speeds and caused their deaths through its "negligent design."
Jason Davis, 17, was driving a car on a road in southern Wisconsin on May 28, 2017, accompanied by two passengers: Hunter Morby, 17, and Landen Brown, 20. At some point during the drive, Brown opened his Snapchat app to show the car's speed filter. One snap captured the car's speed at 123 mph, which was significantly above the speed limit.
"They were motivated to drive at excessive speeds in order to obtain
recognition and to share their speed through Snapchat," the lawsuit claimed.
The car then ran off the road, crashed into a tree, and burst into flames, killing all three.
The lawsuit also cited other examples where Snap's speed filter was linked to fatal or near-fatal car crashes. In 2016, a man in Georgia suffered brain damage after a teen, who was allegedly using Snapchat's speed filter while driving, smashed into his car at 107 mph. In 2015, three young women in Pennsylvania died after they crashed into a parked tractor trailer while allegedly using Snapchat's speed filter, and in 2016, the feature was tied to the deaths of five people in a Florida crash.
Last year, a California judge dismissed the lawsuit, citing the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes websites and tech companies from legal liability for user-generated content. But last month, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed the decision, saying that Snap was not immune from the lawsuit's claims.
The Snap spokesperson said the company could not comment on specifics of the ongoing lawsuit but added that "this was a devastating situation."
Attorneys for the Morby and Brown families told BuzzFeed News they were "gratified" that Snap had "finally chosen to take down the speed filter."
"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. We look forward to our day in court and pursuing justice for those who suffered needless losses," the attorneys said.
One of the attorneys, Naveen Ramachandrappa, told BuzzFeed News that the removal of the filter was unlikely to have any effect on the current legal proceedings before the US District Court in California.
A court hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 2, he said.