OK, so we all know it’s dangerous to text and drive, and in most states it’s actually illegal. Cops can pull you over for using your phone behind the wheel. Some can even check to see if you were texting before having an accident. But still, distracted driving is at the heart of more and more crashes and deaths every month and has reached epidemic levels in the United States.
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I’m not here to beat a dead horse though. The internet is already laden with articles on the subject, and one more person telling you not to text and drive won’t add much to the discussion. But did you know that now you could be found legally responsible for an accident just for sending your friends a text while they’re driving?
Texting while driving – laws
A recent New Jersey state ruling could spark a series of civil liability cases, and possibly lead to new distracted driving laws across the country. Long story short, in a case involving an accident between 18-year old Kyle Best and a couple, David and Linda Kubert, in which Best sideswiped the Kubert’s on their motorcycle, the couple appealed and sued the driver’s 17-year old girlfriend for texting him moments before the crash. The judge didn’t find the girl liable, but the jury did rule that generally, if you text someone while you know they’re driving, you could be found legally liable if that distraction causes an accident.
“We conclude that a person sending text messages has a duty not to text someone who is driving if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving,” the jury said in their ruling. Based on existing distracted driving laws, this ruling may make it possible for judges to find outside texters legally liable in civil cases.
What does this mean for texters everywhere?
First off, no, you won’t be going to jail if the text you just sent happens to get to your friend while she’s driving. For the time being, the ruling only applies in civil cases, and only appears to be applicable in situations where the texter knew the recipient was driving.
That seems like a pretty gray area though. Should we be scared that every time we send texts we could be held liable for an accident? How can you know the person you’re texting is driving? Should I ask every time I text someone if they’re behind the wheel? These are all important questions, that for the time being, have yet unclear answers. Hopefully as the ruling takes shape, and more cases are heard, more answers will arise.
Where does the responsibility lie?
There is another question that I think holds slightly more gravitas; isn’t it the driver’s responsibility to keep his/her eyes on the road, and not on a text message? Distracted driving is a serious and deadly problem, especially in this country. And as technology becomes more and more integrated into our lives, issues like these will only become more commonplace, and distractions more frequent and complex. However, there are times when we sometimes tend to forget about personal responsibility.
Is it distracting to get a text while you’re driving? Of course it can be. But when you take control of a vehicle, you take on a lot of responsibility…and that includes responsibly paying attention to the road, even in the face of increasing distractions.
So what do you do about these new rulings?
As a texter, my suggestion is to be cautious and mindful. If you know your friends or family will most likely be in the car around rush hour, don’t text them during that time. And if someone tells you they’re driving, leave the conversation for later. But as a driver, please remember that even as laws change and rulings form, it’s still always your responsibility to drive smart and drive safely.