Court Says You Can Be Liable For Merely Sending A Text Message To Someone Who’s Driving

We’ve covered stories stemming from texting and driving issues for quite a while here at Techdirt, typically taking the position that all the clamoring for new laws is needless grandstanding when current laws on the books could be applied readily. That said, at least most of the talk about new legislation has centered around making texting illegal for the person who is driving. You know, the person piloting the huge hunk of metal that can kill people.

But now we could be entering a whole new legal realm, as pixelpusher220 writes in about one New Jersey court’s ruling that a person sending texts to someone who is driving may also be liable. Witness a truly new level of insanity, stemming from a case in which two victims of a texting driver sued not only the driver, but the girl sending the driver texts as well.

On Tuesday, a state Appeals Court ruled that the girl in that particular case could not be held liable. But it also ruled “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.”

Sort of leaves you breathless, doesn’t it? Probably because it’s monumentally stupid. The reason people accept attempts to make texting while driving illegal, even if the reason is misguided, at least makes some sense. Someone texting while driving can be dangerous to those around them. The act inherently means that the driver is distracted while driving. There’s really no way around that. The act, in and of itself, introduces at least some measure of danger to the situation.

Sending texts to someone who is driving, on the other hand, carries none of those inherent risks. Even if I know a friend of mine is en route in the car, why wouldn’t I assume that any text I send him or her wouldn’t be read once he or she has stopped driving? In the instances where that is exactly what happens, no danger has been introduced. At all. Making that act potentially liable is at once stupid and incredibly pernicious when it comes to the concept of justice. It shifts the liability for the stupid and/or illegal actions of the driver to a secondary party. It’s just wrong. And it sounds like New Jersey citizens largely agree.

But the majority of those CBS 2 interviewed found the ruling unfair.

“At the end of the day, you’re basically asking somebody else to be responsible for your own behavior,” said Lauren Burns of Verona. “And you can’t control somebody else’s behavior. You can only control your own behavior.”

When the general public shows more common sense than the judiciary, we have a serious problem.

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