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The Courts Communications Transportation

NJ Court: Sending a Text Message To a Driver Could Make You Liable For Crash 628

Posted by Soulskill
from the pendulum-swinging-hard dept.
C0R1D4N writes "A New Jersey Appeals Court has ruled that both sides of a texting conversation which resulted in a car accident could be held liable. The ruling came as part of a case in which the driver of a truck received a text message shortly before striking a motorcycle carrying two passengers. The court ruled that while in this case, the person sending the text wasn't liable, they could be if the circumstances were a little different. '...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.'"
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NJ Court: Sending a Text Message To a Driver Could Make You Liable For Crash

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  • by studpuppy (624228) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:48PM (#44698697)
    Would seem that any action that distracts a driver would then be fair game. Called someone you know on their mobile phone? Even the simple act of them having to reach for the phone, or put their bluetooth headset one, or (heck) even press the answer button on their in-dash system could be argued by a lawyer to have caused a distraction. And what's next? Can I be liable simply for waiving at someone from the sidewalk? After all, they may have to turn their head to see who it was that was waiving, and next thing you know.... BLAM! sigh. I sure do love living in NJ at times.
  • by TheNastyInThePasty (2382648) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:49PM (#44698705)
    The whole point of text messages is to allow for asynchronous communications with someone. Texting someone while they're driving is one of the best times to do it because it means they can get back to you whenever they're done. It's the driver's fault completely for looking at the text. Could you blame Facebook for pushing an update to your phone while you're driving if you looked at it and crashed?
  • by TechyImmigrant (175943) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:49PM (#44698707) Journal

    You send a text because you know someone is driving, so they can pick it up later rather than answering a voice call.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:49PM (#44698713) Journal

    What if a radio DJ makes a shocking announcement and he knows or has special reason to know someone may be listing while driving?

    This one seems nutty to me; making anyone responsible for the safe operation of a car beyond the one operating it seems kinda foolish.

  • Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:53PM (#44698767)
    That is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. It's up to the driver to not check his or her phone well driving, thats it. It doesn't matter if people are texting you, calling you or even trying to IM you, just don't pick up the phone. This is another example of the pass the buck system of law making. Lets not make any one person responsible for being irresponsible and immature, lets make everyone deal with the fact no one has grown up.
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @02:59PM (#44698843) Journal
    I think that the punchline is " if the texter knows, or has special reason to know, the recipient will view the text while driving."

    Merely sending a text message, or making a phone call, or being a talkative passenger, or something, is not a problem. Only doing so with knowledge (how this would be obtained is unclear, and the situation is hypothetical) that the driver will be distracted by your action is seen as problematic.

    It's irrelevant; because the hypothetical proposes a fairly stiff standard of evidence to meet (and would only kick in when both that standard is met and a text-reading driver does something unpleasant enough to get the courts involved); but it's actually not dissimilar from reasoning in other contexts:

    Bringing a delicious peanut butter sandwich to work for lunch is totally innocuous. Doing so with the full knowledge that Bob from Accounting is lethally allergic is...not. Few scenarios are as clear cut as 'prior knowledge of atypical and dangerous allergy'; but it's hardly unreasonable to expect that certain people will be specially vulnerable to certain agents, and that people who know that and expose them anyway should be treated as though they intended the consequences that they knew about, rather than the consequences that would have resulted for any random normal person.
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:01PM (#44698871)

    One issue I have with text records is that my phone will keep trying to send the message until it gets signal. So I can type and hit Send while still in a convenience store, but it might not actually send until I'm 30 miles down the road to an area with better reception. I would presume that records would show when it was actually sent, not when it was typed out. Given that most areas of the country have spotty reception due to even small topographic features or because people use Sprint, it's a less unlikely scenario than it might seem.

  • April 1st (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:01PM (#44698885) Homepage Journal

    Is it just me, or are things getting to the point where nary a day goes by without some headline causing us to check and make sure it's not April Fool's?

    I swear, I've never seen policies as ridiculous as what's coming out nowadays. Even Caligula would balk at some of this shite.

  • by Reibisch (1261448) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:02PM (#44698887)

    For someone who agrees with his overall point, it missed your head by a mile or two. Try looking up the definition of 'asynchronous'.

    His point is that the sender may know someone is driving but expect that driver to show reasonable judgement before reading or responding. Simply knowing someone is driving shouldn't hold the sender liable. My wife sends me text messages frequently while I'm driving, but that doesn't mean I whip out my phone to check it immediately upon alert.

  • by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:03PM (#44698899)

    World is full of stupid people.

    Unfortunately, many of them get to make laws.

  • by ZombieBraintrust (1685608) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:04PM (#44698917)
    It would apply. If your running a trucking company then you will have procedures for calling your truckers. If those procedures don't involve hands free equipment then the trucking company would be liable. The judge just left wiggle room so a different judge can use common sense.
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by meerling (1487879) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:04PM (#44698919)
    Despite the fact that the sender has no real way of knowing if the recipient is operating a vehicle unless they are in the vehicle with them, and on top of that, the text is a non-time sensitive communication like a physical letter. The only reason to read it the moment you get it is because you want to, otherwise you just wait until it's convenient, nobody is in any way forcing you to read it now.

    As to the morons in NJ, they said "...know, the recipient will view the text while driving". I guess the statement of "I didn't know he/she was stupid enough to text while driving." suddenly becomes a valid defense.
  • Simple Math (Score:3, Insightful)

    by imatter (2749965) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:06PM (#44698961)
    The more people that are liable the more lawyers you need to defend them.
  • by TheCarp (96830) <sjc@noSPAM.carpanet.net> on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:11PM (#44699023) Homepage

    While I disagree that this is that big a deal, especially in light of the evidence that the people who get in accidents with cell phones get in just as many accidents without them (gee what is the common link there?) which seriously makes me think that the whole issue is a matter of not recognizing the inherent self-selection in accident statistics than anything.....

    aside from that, this is essentially the same argument I used to make when people would be concerned about me occasionally turning off the ringer on my phone or leaving it somewhere so as not to bother me.

    Mom: "What if there was an emergency and your grandmother got hurt?"
    Me: "Then you should call the hospital, I am not an ambulance, and have no medical training; I likely can't help."

    As if me not knowing the very moment someone died or was seriously injured was somehow important. Yes I may only find out hours later. Yes I may miss the opportunity to see them alive one more time.... no I don' lose any sleep over it.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:25PM (#44699209)
    If someone is that allergic to something then they should live in a bubble. The entire would should not have to stop because someone has a condition.
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:29PM (#44699273)

    Well, too fucking bad for Bob, then. He can't seriously expect the whole world to bend over backwards to accommodate him.

    This is getting ridiculous with the fucking food allergies. Oh noes, I'm allergic to peanuts. Oh noes, I'm allergic to tree nuts. Oh noes, I'm allergic to shellfish. Oh noes, I'm lactose intollerant. Oh noes, I'm allergic to gluten. Oh noes, I'm allergic to eggs. Well fuck that, my kids school is like a fucking prison with so many restrictions, one of these days they'll probably start feeding the kids cardboard because every tiny little shit is allergic to something.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by David_Hart (1184661) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:31PM (#44699307)

    Bringing a delicious peanut butter sandwich to work for lunch is totally innocuous. Doing so with the full knowledge that Bob from Accounting is lethally allergic is...not..

    What? Sorry, but this is just as nonsensical as the court ruling about knowingly texting someone while they are driving. This is about the continued abdication of personal responsibility. When you get behind the wheel of a car, anything you do is your responsibility.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luthair (847766) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:35PM (#44699345)

    Most people consider text messaging to be asynchronous communication to be responded to when the receiver is able. The only occasion I can think of where the sender ought to be liable is if they were the driver's employer and required the driver to respond quickly.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:46PM (#44699479) Homepage Journal

    but this is just as nonsensical as the court ruling about knowingly texting someone while they are driving

    Well, if you put it like that, then yeah, the court's decision would be nonsensical. But the court didn't say that. The court said that you share responsibility if you have good reasons to believe the text receiver is not merely driving, but will read the text while driving.

    Which is commonsense. You don't get an out for something you initiate simply because the mechanism you're relying upon involves someone else being irresponsible. And the court's not making you solely responsible, but it isn't letting you off the hook either.

    This is about personal responsibility. Personal responsibility does not mean blaming one person for the actions of multiple people, it means each person involved stepping up to the plate and taking responsible for their part. If you're texting people knowing they're reading those texts while driving, then you're an irresponsible jerk. The driver's irresponsible too, but you know they're reading those messages, and you're sending the messages anyway. Don't pretend it's got nothing to do with you.

  • Re: Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:50PM (#44699519) Journal
    Even so. I should be able to send a text to a driver even if I know for sure he is driving at that time. A text message can be left alone until it is safe to read it, and the responsibility of waiting to read the message until it can be done safely is 100â... the responsibility of the recipient.
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Culture20 (968837) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:53PM (#44699541)
    Same here. But then there's invariably a commercial advertisement that uses honking car horns or an emergency siren. Thanks radio!
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @03:54PM (#44699551) Homepage

    > Well, if you put it like that, then yeah, the court's decision would be nonsensical. But the court didn't say that. The court said that you share responsibility if you have good reasons to believe the text receiver is not merely driving, but will read the text while driving.

    You repeating the nonsense doesn't make it any less moronic.

    The driver has free will. The driver as moral awareness. The driver is a legal adult. The driver is capable of being in control of himself and the situation.

    It's the driver's duty to not do dangerous stupid shit.

    You demean all of us when you try to strip people of moral responsibility for their actions. You turn us into something less than human.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by St.Creed (853824) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:02PM (#44699645)

    I have been wondering for some time now why peanut allergies are virtually unknown in China and were unknown in The Netherlands until say, 15 years ago. Now, it's every third kid that has a pretty dangerous allergy. And it's not a case of overdiagnosing either.

    My hypothesis is that while crop growers are very good at hardening the fruits and vegetables against disease and insects, they forget (or rather: ignore) the fact that the reason fruit and vegetables are resistant is because they are using a frightful array of chemical defenses. And those defenses include proteins, most of them not being analyzed since we're talking "harmless and healthy vegetables". I think that if we'd analyze the chemical defenses in the current crops really carefully, we'd probably discover some nasty surprises.

    And I agree that it sounds as if US schools are overreacting horribly. Noone will choke to death from touching a peanut butter sandwhich. They won't like it (blisters will likely occur), but that will just teach 'em not to touch places where peanut butter sandwiches have been. But don't blame the kids with allergies for the way your school "handles" this problem. Although this does depend on the age of the kids. At age 3-, you can't expect the kids to take care of this issue themselves. At age 10, I sure as hell expect kids to watch out what they put in their mouth.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by omnichad (1198475) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:18PM (#44699813) Homepage

    They could just as easily read the text later. It's asynchronous communication.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by David_Hart (1184661) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:22PM (#44699883)

    but this is just as nonsensical as the court ruling about knowingly texting someone while they are driving

    Well, if you put it like that, then yeah, the court's decision would be nonsensical. But the court didn't say that. The court said that you share responsibility if you have good reasons to believe the text receiver is not merely driving, but will read the text while driving.

    Which is commonsense. You don't get an out for something you initiate simply because the mechanism you're relying upon involves someone else being irresponsible. And the court's not making you solely responsible, but it isn't letting you off the hook either.... If you're texting people knowing they're reading those texts while driving, then you're an irresponsible jerk. The driver's irresponsible too, but you know they're reading those messages, and you're sending the messages anyway. Don't pretend it's got nothing to do with you.

    No... it's still utter nonsense. No matter what a texter does, they cannot force you to pick up the phone.

    It's like saying that a cute girl is responsible for your bad driving because she is walking down the road in the summer wearing shorts and a bikini top looking hot. Based on the logic above, she would hold some responsibility simply because she knows that guys would be driving down the road looking at her, causing accidents.

    No one in their right mind would hold the girl responsible, in whole or in part, for your actions or any accidents caused by your actions. The same applies to people texting you. No one in their right mind would expect you to reply to their texts while driving, even if they knew that you were. They would expect you to find a safe place to pull over. It's your responsibility to drive safely and no one can force you to text back while driving....

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:28PM (#44699959)

    I have been wondering for some time now why peanut allergies are virtually unknown in China and were unknown in The Netherlands until say, 15 years ago. Now, it's every third kid that has a pretty dangerous allergy. And it's not a case of overdiagnosing either.

    My hypothesis is that while crop growers are very good at hardening the fruits and vegetables against disease and insects, they forget (or rather: ignore) the fact that the reason fruit and vegetables are resistant is because they are using a frightful array of chemical defenses. And those defenses include proteins, most of them not being analyzed since we're talking "harmless and healthy vegetables". I think that if we'd analyze the chemical defenses in the current crops really carefully, we'd probably discover some nasty surprises.

    And I agree that it sounds as if US schools are overreacting horribly. Noone will choke to death from touching a peanut butter sandwhich. They won't like it (blisters will likely occur), but that will just teach 'em not to touch places where peanut butter sandwiches have been. But don't blame the kids with allergies for the way your school "handles" this problem. Although this does depend on the age of the kids. At age 3-, you can't expect the kids to take care of this issue themselves. At age 10, I sure as hell expect kids to watch out what they put in their mouth.

    That could be, but more likely it isn't the case. I agree that it isn't overdiagnosing, either, but it is just better diagnosing. People have many allergies, very few lead to anaphylactic shock. I for one am allergic to peanuts and yet I eat them all the time and enjoy peanut butter. There is a difference between having an allergy and having a life threatening allergy. Today, kids get test routinely for allergies. As such, they are now diagnosed as having these allergies, whereas previous you would only get tested if you were having actual allergy problems. Most people are allergic to a myriad of things. If the symptoms are problematic you take allergy pills. If the symptoms are deadly, you avoid the source all together and carry an epi pen just in case.

    Probably the reason you don't hear of many peanut allergies in China is that like the US, most people do not have a serious allergy to them but unlike the US, most Chinese people don't get the medical care and testing that occurs in the US to determine if they are even mildly allergic.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by squiggleslash (241428) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:30PM (#44699985) Homepage Journal

    It's like saying that a cute girl is responsible for your bad driving because she is walking down the road in the summer wearing shorts and a bikini top looking hot. Based on the logic above, she would hold some responsibility simply because she knows that guys would be driving down the road looking at her, causing accidents.

    No, that's bizarre logic. Short of using a burkha, the woman can't avoid being "cute", and in any case isn't doing so to catch the eye of drivers (mind you: in an extreme case even this could happen, if a "pretty girl" decided to flash her chest at male drivers at a busy intersection, and there was an accident, I'd say it would be pretty likely that, in addition to any indecency charges, the woman would be held partly accountable for the carnage.)

    You're making a proactive effort to communicate with a driver in an unsafe way, on the other hand. You're sending them text messages. You know they're driving. You know the recipient is likely to respond, which means you're expecting them to respond.

    How. Are. You. Not. Partly. Responsible? Seriously. You're expecting someone to do X if you do Y. You don't have to do Y. You do it anyway, because you want X to happen.

    It's not unfair. It's not unreasonable. And if you seriously don't want to be held responsible for an accident that wouldn't have happened if you'd avoided doing something you knew could cause an accident, wouldn't it be reasonable for you to just not do it, rather than bitch about the possibility you might get part of the blame on Slashdot?

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bws111 (1216812) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:33PM (#44700007)

    It's all so nicely black and white, isn't it?

    The driver in this case was a truck driver, he probably worked for a trucking company. Now, suppose his boss had the habit of texting him 'urgent' information, and that continued employment depending on responding to/acting on those texts.

    The driver has free will

    . Yep, and his 'free will' choice is now 'ignore the text and lose my job, or look at the text and maybe be in an accident'. I'm guess that one of those outcomes is much more likely than the other - so much for his 'free will'.

    The driver has moral awareness

    Yep, and probably a big part of that awareness is his responsibility to provide for his family

    The driver is capable of being in control of the situation

    Which situation is he in control of? The employment situation, or the reading a text situation?

    Yes, the driver is responsible for his actions, and NOBODY has claimed otherwise. But what possible reason is there of stripping the bos of HIS moral responsibility for putting the driver in that position (of having to choose between keeping his job and looking at a text) in the first place? THAT is what the judge is getting at, and you have not provided any valid argument against it.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by X0563511 (793323) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:35PM (#44700049) Homepage Journal

    No kidding. That's just irresponsible. But nope, can't say "fuck" on the radio because THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by thedonger (1317951) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:42PM (#44700131)
    People vastly overreact to the threat of peanuts. My little sister is extremely allergic to peanuts and has been since she was a child. So allergic that a peanut touching her skin raises a welt. She grew up in a house where 6 other people ate peanut butter all the time like it was liquid crack. The real stuff, too - Teddy - not that Jiff or Skippy hydrogenated junk. She went to public school. She lives a normal life, but with an Epipen in her purse. As with damn near everything else a vocal minority have created a huge scare over something that while potentially deadly is easily avoidable.
  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cayenne8 (626475) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:42PM (#44700133) Homepage Journal

    While I don't know of any cases involving peanut butter, there are plenty involving perfume and cologne where an employee is allergic to strong smells from these substances and other employees are prohibited from using them at the workplace (or even teachers if a student has the condition). Violation of the prohibition costs one their job. By definition, if you lose your job for bringing the banned substance to work because of an allergy another employee has, you are in fact being held accountable [for your actions].

    Are you fucking serious?!?!?

    Just because one person has some sort of deficiency or problem that limits everyone else in the whole building!?!?!

    Why is the onus on all the normal people, and not on the person with the isolated problem???

    Geez, why are we always catering to the lowest common denominator for everything these days?

    I've never heard of such a thing, and I've worked in govt offices in the past which would likely be the nutjob jobsites that would try to enforce such a thing....

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DarkOx (621550) on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @04:57PM (#44700341) Journal

    But what possible reason is there of stripping the bos of HIS moral responsibility for putting the driver in that position

    Because when you try and make everyone responsible for everything the outcome is nobody is responsible for anything. The next level out is someone is going to suggest the telco can reasonably know if a phone is in a moving vehicle; so how come they failed to hold the messages until the phone was not observed to be traveling at rate a speed beyond a running human?

    In your case I could argue the Boss has special reason to if not know at least think the trucker is going to be driving, after all its what he is paying the guy to do all day. So should he not be able to text his driver or should we keep it simple and say its really the drivers responsibility to wait for a safe time to read and reply to messages? He could do this before departing a fuel stop for example.

    At somepoint you just have to say, he wait the trucker is they guy behind at the controls of 18 tons of steel, he needs to be doing everything in his power to make that safe. Ultimately its his choice and his alone to read that text message or not.

    If his boss is insisting he does something illegal that endangers his safety in the work place (his truck); I am sure OSAH or someone at the DOL would love to hear about it. We have all this government for some reason right? Maybe he should use it?

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad.arnett@notf ... g ['hir' in gap]> on Wednesday August 28, 2013 @05:26PM (#44700707)

    It is illegal for a 16 year old to drink, but nobody would argue that offering one a beer doesn't make you liable because the 16 year old has free will and could refuse the beer. Likewise, the court is saying doing something you know is wrong makes you liable.

    I dislike this example. How about this:

    It is illegal for a person (call him Fred) to drink while driving, but nobody would argue that giving Fred (who is over 21) sealed beer to take home with him with the intent of him drinking them later, and then Fred choosing to drink the beer while in the car on the way makes you liable.

    It's almost a perfect analogy of the original scenario, and it shows how this DOES in fact, strip the actual person responsible of their moral responsibility. If only we could just bubble wrap every surface so thickly that no one ever gets hurt, ever.

  • Re:Idiocracy (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eraesr (1629799) on Thursday August 29, 2013 @08:20AM (#44705255) Homepage
    It's a whole different situation. If I bring a peanut butter sandwich to work, then I'm directly responsible for putting my colleague in danger. However, if I'm sending a text message to someone I know is driving, then my sending that text message is in no way directly responsible for whatever accident may happen due to the driver picking up the phone and reading the text message. The big difference is that the driver still has a choice here. It's the driver that makes the choice to check the text message. He isn't forced to. Your allergic colleague doesn't have the choice of being exposed to peanut butter or not (assuming this is a real, terrible case of peanut butter allergy) and has no real way of avoiding the consequences.

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