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Texting While Driving: An Aventura Personal Injury Attorney's Warning
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Texting While Driving: An Aventura Personal Injury Attorney\'s Warning

Talking on a cell phone is becoming a well-known distraction to drivers, significantly increasing the chance of accidents (it has been scientifically compared to drinking-while-driving). Some states have made it illegal to use cell phones while driving, but Florida lawmakers have refrained from taking that step. Yet, as an Aventura personal injury attorney, I know that it is crucial not to forget that, regardless of the criminal law, causing an accident while texting-while-driving is a significant factor in the civil law.

The Future of Distracted Driving Cases

According to a report by The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in the United States, over 2,600 automobile deaths are caused by cell phone-related distractions and over 330,000 people actually sustain injuries from cell phone distracted drivers each year.

Civil liability following these sorts of accidents has spurred many unique legal cases. For example, in 2009, two motorcyclists in New Jersey were struck head-on by a truck that crossed the centerline. The truck was driven by a man texting on a cell phone with his girlfriend, when he should have been paying attention to his driving. Interestingly, the two victims not only sued the driver of the truck, as would be expected, but also sued the girlfriend he was texting with.

As of May 2012, no other court in the country had ruled on a similar case, and because the girlfriend claimed she didn’t know her boyfriend was driving, the New Jersey judge ruled the girlfriend could not be held liable. However, some experts believe the ruling might have been different had she actually known he was driving.

In the future, some believe that distracted driver accident lawsuits will most likely include cell phone callers as defendants who were not physically present; especially if they knew, or should have known, the driver was actually in the process of driving at the time of the call.

Theoretically, this New Jersey case may have also opened the door to include situations where the driver and the passenger carry on a lengthy conversation with each other. However, it is argued that passengers naturally reduce their conversation whenever a perceived level of danger is present. Also, it is not unusual, such as on a long trip, for a driver to engage in conversation with a passenger just to stay awake.

Studies on this subject of distracted driving have produced mixed results regarding the dangers of a driver who talks on a cell phone, versus one who talks with a passenger. The use of a cell phone, especially while texting, caused drivers to be four times more likely to miss turns, not stop when necessary, or be unable to make reactive maneuvers. Whereas, when talking to passengers drivers retained better control in spite of the distraction, so long as they kept their eyes on the road.

However, a study at the University of South Carolina found that it was one thing for a driver to simply be listening to a passenger talk, and quite another thing when the driver had to carry on a discussion. It seems that planning to speak, and actually speaking, puts far more demands on the brain’s resources than listening does, and decreases the driver’s attention level.

Just as the girlfriend was sued for texting her boyfriend driver, it would also be likely for a passenger to be sued for engaging in a discussion with a driver to the point that it caused a legitimate distraction. It is not out of the question that we will see many more lawsuits of this kind, where cell phone callers (as well as passengers) face liability for creating a distraction to drivers who cause auto accidents.


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