Texting a Driver Just Became a Crime in New Jersey

There have been many efforts to prevent texting while driving given the prevalence of car accidents and deaths. In New Jersey, state appeals court judges have ruled that senders of text messages can be held responsible if they know the recipients are driving also. The case that sparked this new ruling involved a 2009 accident back in which a 17-year-old girl, Shannon Colonna, texted her friend, 18-year-old Kyle Best, just before Best crashed his pickup truck into a couple riding on a motorcycle. The couple on the motorcycle experienced severe injuries that required amputation of parts of their legs and resulted in a lawsuit against Colonna and Best.

Colonna wasn't held responsible in this case, but the New Jersey appeals court took this situation into account while implementing new legislation aimed at holding text senders responsible for text-induced accidents. While these accidents are devastating, it seems unfair to hold the sender responsible if s/he "knows" that the recipient is driving. First, what does "knowing" entail in this particular court ruling? Second, it is and should be the responsibility of the driver to not read or respond to a text while driving.

A study at the University of Michigan shows that people find it habitual to text back when receiving a text message. According to News Tribune, Joseph Bayer, a doctoral student and the study's lead researcher, "some individuals automatically feel compelled to check for, read, and respond to new messages, and may not even realize they have done so while driving until after the fact."

While text messaging is habit, there are ways to counteract text messaging instincts. For example, people can turn of their cell phones, keep them in a bag or glove box, or simply throw them in the back seat of the car while driving. While these are habits that people must practice, urging people to be accountable for their use of cell phones in their own cars is a more practical approach to the texting-while-driving problem than blaming others.

The court compared receiving text messages while driving to a driver having a piece of paper hanging in front of the his or her face. Not only is this a frivolous comparison, but it removes all accountability from the driver who has the choice whether to look at or ignore his phone while driving.