Texters can be Held Responsible if Driver Crashes Judges Ruling

It has been concurred by auto experts, legal professionals and motorists that texting behind the wheel is considered distracted driving and can be rather deadly to both the driver and other operators of surrounding vehicles.

According to an infographic from Texting and Driving Safety, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of all auto collisions in the United States in 2011 involved mobile phones and 13 percent of drivers aged 18 to 20 involved in car accidents admitted to talking or texting on their cellphone. In addition, Americans are quite open about it: 34 percent say they have texted while driving, 52 percent have talked on the phone while driving and one in five have confessed to surfing the web while driving.

Many states are cracking down on using mobile devices while operating a vehicle. In New Jersey, it has recently been ruled by judges that not only those using a phone while driving will be charged with distracted driving but also those sending text messages could be held responsible.

It was reported by CBS News that a three-judge panel in The Garden State ruled in a Morris County case that involved two motorcycle riders losing their legs because a driver ran into them while texting. According to the final ruling, the other texter could be held accountable if they knew the other person was behind the wheel while receiving texts.

“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,” Superior Court Appellate Division Judge Victor Ashrafi wrote, according to NJ.com.

Ashrafi had noted in the statement that the relationship between the driver and the texter is similar to putting a piece of paper in front of the motorist’s eyes while driving.

“When the sender knows that the text will reach the driver while operating a vehicle, the sender has a relationship to the public who use the roadways similar to that of a passenger physically present in the vehicle,” Ashrafi added. “As we have stated, a passenger must avoid distracting the driver. The remote sender of a text who knows the recipient is then driving must do the same.”

Experts argue that this is a signal that the legal system is taking decisive action against distracted driving.

“It’s a stern warning to those who know that the person they’re texting may be distracted from driving,” stated Rick DeMichele, an attorney in Haddon Heights. DeMichele added that knowledge will be the primary element in upcoming cases.

However, in the reported case, the other texter didn’t face any consequences because the panel went through with a lower court’s dismissal of the individual – the court concurred that the young person was unaware that the recipient was driving – and the two victims had settled with the culprit. In the future, though, DeMichele believes the state’s Supreme Court will discuss the matter and eventually the state legislature will debate the issue.

Not everyone agrees with the ruling. Pix11.com spoke with local residents and a lot of them seemed to say the same thing: it’s difficult to know if a person will answer a text once it has been sent, whether or not they’re driving.

Joe Applegate of Monroe Township told the news outlet that it’s “absurd absurd just cause they know you’re driving doesn’t mean they know you’re looking at it.” He further explained that the sender may be sending a text expecting the person to read it later.

Others also say that anything could be considered distracting the driver. “Even talking to the driver could distract them, so are they going to arrest us if we talk to somebody who’s driving? I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Louise McKellip, of Teaneck.

In the end, it was generally agreed upon that drivers should avoid their phones altogether while operating a vehicle.