One State's New Law Calls More Attention to Texting

texting while driving

A recent New Jersey court decision sparked national attention, and it could influence texting laws closer to home.

The case was tragic, yet seemingly straightforward: a teenaged boy responded to a text, and as he did, his truck drifted across the road's center lines. He crushed a husband and wife on their motorcycle and forced them each to lose a leg. The couple sued, but the public raised eyebrows when they included not only the driver in the lawsuit, but also the teenaged girl who sent him the text to which he was replying.

The lawsuit claimed that the girl who sent the text was "electronically present" in the car, and she should be held accountable for distracting the driver. While the court found her to be innocent, it made an unprecedented conclusion: had the girl have known the boy was driving while she was texting him, she would have been found responsible for the accident.

Based on the decision, New Jersey has added a supplement to its texting-while-driving law. If the sender of a text is aware that the recipient is operating a vehicle while texting, and if the recipient causes an accident, the sender of the text can also be held liable for the accident. The addition comes after the state declared distracted driving a crime if the distracted driver causes an accident, putting it on the same level as drunk driving. Fines can reach up to $150,000, and the responsible driver can spend up to 10 years in jail.

Distracted driving is currently the number one cause of car accidents, and this includes not only using a cell phone, but also eating, reaching to grab something, talking, and other distractions. While it's too early to be certain, it's possible that the New Jersey ruling will influence other states to adopt similar additions to their current texting-while-driving laws.

Injured by a Distracted Driver?

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"Text a driver in New Jersey, and you could see your day in court." August 29, 2013.