You no longer need to be behind the wheel to get busted for texting while driving. A New Jersey Judge says you could be responsible just for sending a text to someone you know is behind the wheel if the driver ends up in an accident.
It boils down to being responsible for someone else’s behavior. According to the court ruling in New Jersey, if someone is driving and an acquaintance sends a text message knowing the other person is behind the wheel, the acquaintance could be held partially responsible.
“One of the great arguments that my colleague made was to analogize that when you text, as the texter, you are electronically in that car,” said Marc Saperstein, an attorney specializing in distracted driving. He says even though the girl in this case could not be found liable, the ruling opens the door for future texters to be responsible for sending messages to people they know are behind the wheel.
“If the texter knows, or has a special reason to know that the driver will look at that text and respond to it.”
Saperstein says that would likely require a special relationship like employer and employee or parent and child.
But most people we spoke to in New Jersey disagreed with the ruling, calling it virtually impossible to know whether or not someone will answer a text once it’s sent, even if you know that person is driving at the time.
“That’s completely absurd just cause they know you’re driving doesn’t mean they know you’re looking at it. So they could just be texting you something they’re expecting you to read in the future,” said Joe Applegate, of Monroe Township.
“Even talking to the driver could distract them, so are they going to arrest us if we talk to somebody who’s driving? I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s fair,” said Louise McKellip, of Teaneck.
But others agreed with the panel, saying when it comes to cars safety should always be the first priority.
“Because it’s dangerous. And I wouldn’t text anyone and I don’t answer my phone when I’m driving,” said Angelina Miller, also of Teaneck. “And I don’t think they should either because your life and other people’s lives are important.”
Everyone seemed to agree that drivers avoiding the phone altogether is the best way to keep texter and textee out of trouble.
“If the phone rings don’t answer it.”
So what about if your out of state? Saperstein said that, because it is a state ruling, right now if the accident takes place in New Jersey an out-of-state texter could still be found potentially liable for the accident. If the accident takes place in another state with the caller in New Jersey, the caller is unlikely to face any consequences. But Saperstein says because the opinion is so cutting edge, it’s likely to get appealed in State Supreme Court.