Here’s a new twist on the texting while driving issue: legal liability not just for the driver who was texting, but also for the person who sent the text to someone while they knew that person was driving. This is precisely the issue that has emerged in a texting while driving car accident case in New Jersey.
The case involves a New Jersey couple who suffered severe injuries when their motorcycle was struck by a teenager who was texting and driving. The case already settled for $500,000 with the driver of the vehicle. But the couple also sought recovery against the driver’s girlfriend who sent him the text message to which he was responding at the time of the crash. The trial judge dismissed that claim, saying that she couldn’t be held liable. Now that issue is going up on appeal, with the injured plaintiffs arguing that the girlfriend should have known that the defendant was texting while driving and that while not physically present for the accident, she was “electronically present”.
While it will be interesting to see how these legal issues gets decided in the courts, this case—yet again—highlights the tragedy of texting while driving cases. Overwhelmingly, as in the New Jersey case, the texting driver (and his girlfriend) was a teenager. When these accidents happen not only do they destroy the lives of the plaintiffs, but they also destroy the lives of the young teenagers involved. Some data from across the country tells us about the extent of this problem:
- The average age a person receives his first cell phone is now 11.6 years old
- Texting is the #1 driving distraction for teenage drivers.
- Text messaging accounts for the majority of distracted driving incidents and is now blamed for more than 6,000 driving fatalities per year. That is 25% of all traffic deaths.
- According to NHTSA, individuals who text while driving are 23 times more likely to have an accident than those who do not text.
- And a study from Virginia Tech found that, compared to drivers who are legally drunk, drivers who are texting are 6 times more likely to be involved in an accident.
- Related to that, a Car and Driver Magazine report states that texting drivers have reaction times that are significantly lower than that of drunk drivers.
This information is simply too much to ignore, and as the tragic case out of New Jersey teaches us, ending texting while driving is an issue for which everyone has to take responsibility. We need to teach our teenage drivers about the serious dangers of texting while driving. But more than that, we need to encourage our teenagers to help be responsible for each other and not put their friends in a position to make dangerous choices. Sending a text to someone you know is behind the wheel isn’t all the different from handing them a drink as they step behind the wheel.