People who text while driving are responsible for the accidents their distracted behavior causes — but what about the people at the other end of the conversation, who aren’t driving?
A New Jersey couple out for a motorcycle ride almost died after a young man texting while driving stopped paying attention to the lanes and sideswiped them.
David and Linda Kuber each lost a leg and sustained life-threatening injuries. The driver, Kyle Best, pled guilty to the charges brought against him. But the matter still isn’t over: the couple’s lawyer is making a case against the woman sending messages to Best during the ill-fated drive, arguing that her actions are akin to aiding and abetting a crime.
The lawyer argues that, based on the pattern of texts, Shannon Colonna knew Best was driving at the time of her texts and still expected him to respond, which encouraged him to break the law and cause the bloody accident.
Distracted driving causes a substantial part of car accidents, and while erring drivers are often charged for their crimes, this case will set a precedent for assigning guilt to the people on the other end of the text conversation.
If the court finds Colonna guilty, it could prompt other victims of distracted driving to file suits against the people who texted their vehicular assailants, bolstering convictions against these people.
Colonna’s lawyer argues she had no way of knowing when Best would read and respond to her text, but if the Kuber’s lawyer can prove she knew he’d text back, they may have a successful suit.
With lawmakers across the U.S. honing in on the dangers of texting while driving, and one town in New Jersey outlawing texting while walking to curb accidents that happen to hapless pedestrians, the country is gravely concerned about the distracting nature of smartphones.
If the judge wants to make an example of Colonna, the verdict may influence a number of cases being brought against distracted drivers and jumpstart a change in the way courts find these drivers culpable, shifting some blame to the people texting them.
Technology designed to re-route phone calls and texts for people on the move may gain traction, and people will likely think twice about hitting “send” if they don’t know the whereabouts of the text recipient.
The Kubers’ lawyer raises some interesting questions, but it may be difficult to prove Colonna knew Best was in the car. In addition, as more young people use smartphones with mobile Facebook and Twitter apps, this case may raise more questions — could people be held responsible for accidents that happen when a driver gets distracted by their tweet? The answer to that question will likely open up a gray area and complicate an already escalating issue.