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Judges' comments open door to making texting a driver illegal

A recent ruling by a state appeals court in New Jersey could signal a movement towards holding Floridians and other Americans legally responsible for auto accidents caused by texting while driving. The case involved a lawsuit against a young woman for her part in an accident that left a couple seriously injured.

In September 2009, a couple on a motorcycle was struck by a young man in a pick-up truck. He had just sent a text in response to one he had received from a 17-year-old girl. Seconds later, his truck crossed the double center line in the road and hit the motorcyclists. Both had parts of their legs amputated as a result of their injuries. The couple sued the driver, who was texting illegally, and the girl with whom he was texting.

While the suit against the driver was settled, a superior court judge dismissed the suit against the girl, who claimed she did not know that her friend was driving when she texted him. While the three-judge appellate court upheld the dismissal of the case, the judges had some strong words regarding the responsibility of people who knowingly text someone who is driving.

Two of the three judges stated in their ruling that although they did not believe the girl should be held liable for the accident, people have a responsibility not to text someone whom they know or have reason to believe is driving. One judge compared texting a driver to a passenger holding a piece of paper in front of a driver's face.

Although his clients did not win the appeal, their attorney commended the judges for their words. He said he was happy that two of them made a point of stating that people should not knowingly distract someone who is driving by sending them a text, and expressed the opinion that doing so should possibly be made illegal.

Although it could be difficult to prove in some cases that a person knowingly texted someone who was driving, such a law could make people think twice before engaging in a texting conversation when they do not know what the other person is doing. As more states adopt laws against using handheld devices while driving, it is certainly conceivable the one day soon, responsibility could be extended to the people on the other end of those conversations.

Source: The Star-Ledger, "Court clears teen in texting case, but says texters have 'special responsibility' for knowingly distracting drivers" Thomas Zambito, Aug. 27, 2013

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