Texters, in cars or not, should beware, New Jersey court rules

If you are texting with a driver and the distracted driver gets into an accident, should you also face legal consequences?

Yes, says a New Jersey appeals court. In this day and age, the court reasons, your digital presence can be just as real as your physical presence. So if you know that the person you’re texting is operating a vehicle, and you have good reason to believe that he’ll view or respond to your message while driving, you too should be held responsible if he gets into an accident. In that scenario, the court says, “the sender has breached a duty of care to the public by distracting the driver.”

The ruling, writes my colleague Matt Pearce, “is notable not just for trying to crack down on texting and driving but for interpreting the way that technology has reshaped life.”

Pearce continues: “In other words, texting someone can sometimes be the same as actually being with them. The implication of this point is a bit larger: The physical world doesn’t exist separately from cyberspace; technology and life often overlap, sometimes with lethal consequences.”


I’m likely to support any strategy that will curb texting while driving. So, if this New Jersey court ruling helps deter texters from contacting drivers, great. Still, it’s the driver who has the ultimate responsibility. The driver is the one operating a vehicle that, in distracted hands, can become a deadly weapon. It’s incumbent on the driver to show self-control, to ignore his phone when it beeps or, if that proves too difficult, to put his phone on silent or turn it off altogether.

Anyone who doesn’t recognize or remember the basic responsibilities that come with holding a driver’s license really shouldn’t be on the road.

Werner Herzog’s mini-documentary, “From One Second to the Next,” makes that clear. In the film, which you can watch above, he shows the dangers of texting while driving, the lives that are lost or destroyed. It is “35 minutes of excruciating testimonials,” writes the Atlantic’s James Hamblin. The Verge’s Aaron Souppouris calls it “harrowing.” And Rolling Stone’s Peter Holslin says it “will guarantee you never touch that phone while behind the wheel ever again.”

One can hope.



The risk of taking on Syria

The problem with giving in on marijuana laws

Five reasons to stay away from Texas right now

Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier and Google+

Get our weekly Opinion newsletter