34 percent of drivers admitted to texting while driving. In reality, those numbers are surely a great deal higher. Despite the barrage of ad campaigns, PSAs, and obvious consequences, as long as texting exists, this is going to remain a national safety issue. Now, if you text a driver in New Jersey who is involved in an accident, you could be held civilly liable. Like most of our technological advances, this appears rather difficult to enforce. There are undeniable twists to a recent New Jersey appeals court ruling, however. Though drivers are still prohibited from texting and driving, an incident in Trenton, New Jersey nearly found a woman liable for sending a text to a driver that resulted in major bodily injury.
This suit was brought forth by Stephen “Skippy” Weinstein, a New Jersey Attorney, whose clients, Linda and David Kubert, both lost their left legs in a text-related accident. On the day of the accident, nineteen year old Kyle Best was texting and driving when he struck and brutally injured the couple, causing them both to lose their left legs. The Kuberts ultimately settled outside of court with Best, then turned around and sued seventeen-year-old Shannon Colonna, who had been exchanging texts with Best prior to the accident.
“To summarize our conclusions, we do not hold that someone who text a person driving is liable for that person’s negligent actions; the driver bears responsibility for obeying the law and maintaining safe control of the vehicle,” the appeals court ruled. “We hold that, when a texter knows or has special reason to know that the intended recipient is driving and is likely to read the text message while driving, the texter has a duty to users of the public roads to refrain from sending the driver a text at that time.”
Three of the appeals court judges agreed with a prior Superior Court ruling in 2012 that dismissed the suit against Colonna. Prior to the judge’s ruling, Colonna was accused of “aiding and abetting” Best, having sent him the text that caused him to be involved in the accident. This court had found that Colonna had no knowledge that Best was driving when she texted him, and no charges were brought against her.
Surprisingly, Weinstein stated that the Kuberts supported the decision of the appeals court – possibly for addressing a remote sender who can be perceived as “electronically present” in a vehicle. Weinstein added that he is currently discussing a course of action with the Kuberts, of which the course of action may seem to appeal to the New Jersey Supreme Court for claims against Colonna to be reinstated.
“The sender should be able to assume that the recipient will read a text message only when it is safe and legal to do so,” the appeals court ruling added. “However, if the sender knows that the recipient is both driving and will read the text immediately, then the sender has taken a foreseeable risk in sending a text at that time. The sender has knowingly engaged in distracting conduct, and it is not unfair also to hold the sender responsible for the distraction.”
In response to this problem, major phone carriers like AT&T have produced short documentaries on the subject. It seems that the most efficient way to garner the attention of drivers is to offer up testimonials of those traumatically affected by text-related accidents, though it cannot completely solve the problem.
Currently 39 states have bans on texting while driving, and most are primarily highly-enforced laws entailing hefty fines. This means that police can pull over motorists over for that offense alone. While 55 percent of young adult drivers claim that it is easy to text while driving, it is obviously a major problem. In some states, a distracted driver could be fined up to $150,000 and face nearly 10 years behind bars if they injure someone. This pens the question: How can you stop free will, or better yet – bad habits – for that matter? What it may ultimately boil down to is self-control – we all know that this is a dangerous habit, and are more than often guilty of a seemingly unnecessary behavior.