In November, New Jersey legislators introduced two similar bills aimed at reversing a ruling from the appellate court that recently ruled that a person could be held liable if he or she sends a text message to a driver who is on the road. DUI/DWI and distracted driving attorneys in New Jersey say that these two bills are now on the table to overturn this decision, and both pieces of legislation will attempt to establish how much responsibility a texter has when sending messages.
The first bill, A-4410, states that anyone who sends a text message to a driver “shall not be liable for civil damages resulting from a motor vehicle accident caused by, either directly or indirectly, the message’s recipients unlawful use of a hand-held wireless telephone while driving.” A-4431, the second, and similarly structured bill, further stipulates that even if the texter knows, or guesses, that the recipient of the message will be driving when he or she receives it, the texter cannot be held responsible for the recipient’s decision to read the message while behind the wheel.
In New Jersey, it is illegal to use your cell phone to check emails, social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, or to send and receive text messages while operating a vehicle. Drivers are also banned from using their handheld device to make calls from the car, but they are permitted to use a Bluetooth or wireless headset to make calls. Most newer cars are equipped with Bluetooth compatibility, allowing a driver to pair his or her phone, and make and receive calls through the car’s voice-activated sound system.
Most states, however, do not have laws that govern persons sending text messages to drivers. In Kubert v. Best, the New Jersey appeals court became the first court in the country to issue a ruling that recognized the potential culpability of a remote texter in an accident caused by the driver’s distraction. Shannon Colonna, then 17, was sued for her “electronic presence” in a 2009 car accident between Kyle Best, 18, and David and Linda Kubert.
Colonna had sent Best a text message just before Best crashed into the Kuberts' motorcycle. The judges determined that when Best read the text message, he took his focus off the road, thus causing the crash. Both David and Linda Kubert each lost a leg as a result of the accident, and sued Best and Colonna for damages. Although Colonna was not ultimately found to be responsible for the accident, the appellate panel stated that texters who have reasonable knowledge that the recipient is on the road that the time they send the message may be held liable for causing distraction and potentially inciting an accident or collision.
Currently, distracted driving is penalized under the New Jersey law named for the Kuberts and other victims of distracted driving. Kulesh, Kubert, and Bolis’ Law reaffirms that it is illegal to use a cellphone while driving, and such use constitutes reckless driving, and should incur higher fines.
If these new bills are passed in the state legislative bodies, texters will have a more clear understanding of what constitutes reckless texting, and what could potentially endanger not only the driving recipient, but also others on the road. At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our DUI and distracted driving attorneys represent drivers who have been involved in accidents or collisions.