Text messaging has become as much a part of our collective communication habits as ubiquitous access to a pay-phone used to be.
New Jersey Bans Texting and Driving
The statewide ban on texting while driving has gained acceptance for its purpose of minimizing distracted driving. With it, however, has come some confusion about what exactly the police will enforce as texting. Does holding a phone and checking voicemail require a traffic ticket attorney? What about using the GPS function on a mobile device?
According to the New Jersey statute that defines the texting ban, the ban includes using any handheld wireless phone in a manner that would prevent the driver from having both hands free for driving. (The exception is during emergencies or when reporting an emergency to police.)
The statute also states, “this definition shall not preclude the use of either hand to activate, deactivate, or initiate a function of the telephone.”
That means that drivers may use the phone to a certain degree while driving, including most likely activating the phone’s navigation and voicemail features.
Texting someone a message quickly at a stop sign or traffic light would not be exempted. In fact, judges in the state’s Appeals Court may have just taken the direction of the no-text ban one step further, creating a new type of traffic defense.
Liability for Text Senders in Vehicle Accidents
By handing down a decision that sided with holding a text message sender liable for personal injury, the state may be setting a new trend.
This news story from CNN describes the court’s decision and the facts of the civil case that lead to the somewhat controversial outcome.
A couple that was badly injured in a 2009 truck crash had already settled with the truck driver who drifted across the center median. What made the case unusual was that the couple also sued the truck driver’s girlfriend who had sent him the text message, and allegedly distracted the driver.
The article asks, “Is it now illegal to text someone who is driving?” The answer for now at least is no, not yet. Quoting the judge’s ruling, the article goes on to say, “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. “That knowledge of whether the texter is aware or has a special reason to know that their messages will be received while the other party is driving holds the key to the court’s ruling.
Law Makers Continue to Seek Best Decision
Governor Christie stated after the ruling that blaming the sender might be going too far, since it is ultimately the responsibility of the driver to stay focused on the road. New Jersey lawmakers seem to have the opposite take on the direction of texting bans, “they’ve already beefed up penalties to the point where causing an injury while texting is treated like doing so while driving drunk,” including a fine of up to $150,000 and could go to jail for as many as 10 years is someone is hurt.
Currently lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow police officers to check a driver’s phone after a collision to see if the driver was texting at the time.
If you have been accused of causing a car crash based on distracted driving, your situation may have possible defenses available to you. Contact the experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Anthony J. Vecchio, LLC for more information.