A legal ruling in New Jersey on a case of texting while driving now has the distinction of being the first ruling to also lay responsibility not just on the person texting and driving, but also the person on the other end of the line. Judge Victor Ashafri wrote that "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."
The ruling stems from a 2009 case in which a teenager named Kyle Best hit and injured a couple while driving due to being distracted by his phone. The court upheld the decision to throw out charges also filed against Best's not-quite-girlfriend Shannon Colonna, who had been texting him at the time of the crash.
There is currently no law preventing someone from texting a person who is driving, however, the ruling could be cited in future case to lay responsibility on those whose actions might cause a crash remotely. "We affirm the trial court's order dismissing plaintiffs' complaint against the sender of the text messages, " the ruling stated, "but we do not adopt the trial court's reasoning that a remote texter does not have a legal duty to avoid sending text messages to one who is driving."
“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,” Ashrafi wrote. Proving that someone knowingly texts another who may respond while driving may prove difficult, however. That was actually the basis of the dismissal in this case, as Colonna's lawyers argued she did not know her friend was driving when she texted.) The asynchronous nature of texting, as opposed to real-time communication, makes it easy to send a text without expecting an immediate response.
Public campaigns against texting while driving are gaining steam again. At the beginning of August, Werner Herzog, in partnership with AT&T, released a harrowing documentary on the victims of inattentive drivers.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.