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Watch Your Text: New Jersey’s Novel Approach to Distracted Driving

Don’t text and drive.

In the age of the mobile communications, this all-too-important phrase has taken its rightful place in the pantheon of vehicular warnings.  Just as you should never drink and drive, you should next send a text message while behind the wheel.

While this admonition has become axiomatic, a significant part of the equation has always been missing.  Drivers are repeatedly told to refrain from texting while driving, but what about the text messages they receive?  It takes two to text, but little has been done to curb the actions of the other party—that is, until recently.

In August, a New Jersey state appeals court decided to extend prohibitions against distracted driving to those individuals who knowingly text a driver.  Reasoning that the sender of a text message—though physically remote—is “electronically present” in the driver’s car, the court determined that the sender could be held liable for damages arising from the driver’s accident.  In so holding, the court made sure to limit the rule to those situations in which the “sender knew or had special reason to know that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.”

Moving forward, it will be fascinating to see not only how this rule is implemented, but how the citizens of New Jersey will adapt.  Surely, the ultimate responsibility falls on the driver, but rules such as this may play an important role in curtailing distracted driving.  While ultimately proving that an individual knowingly texted someone in the act of driving should prove difficult, the mere threat of liability should be enough to make the sender think twice. If the court’s ruling manages to have that simple affect, New Jersey’s novel approach to distracted driving will prove to be an indelible success.


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