If a driver gets in an accident reading a text, he or she is certainly at fault, but what role does the sender of that text play in the accident? According to a New Jersey court, the texter can be liable as well. The ruling stems from a 2009 case, in which a young man was texting with a female friend when he accidentally crossed a double yellow line and sideswiped a motorcycle with a couple on it, both of whom lost their left legs. The couple sued both the young man and the woman who sent him a text moments before the accident.
The driver settled, and a the New Jersey court ruled that the woman was not liable in this instance, but in his ruling, judge Victor Ashrafi wrote: “When the sender knows that the text will reach the driver while operating a vehicle, the sender has a relationship to the public who use the roadways similar to that of a passenger physically present in the vehicle.” His argument is that if a texter willingly sends a text to someone driving, knowing that the driver will read the text while flying down the road, the texter, too, could be liable. It’s as if, he postulates, that person is in the car with the driver, willfully distracting them.
Distracted driving is obviously a huge problem, and one that will only be exacerbated by technology’s rapidly increasing role in our lives, but is it fair to fault the sender of a text?
Emily Bazelon, senior editor for online magazine Slate, and a senior research fellow at Yale Law School