Court: Being ‘Electronically Present’ Can Make You Liable

A recent ruling by the New Jersey Court of Appeals has sparked a nationwide debate over exactly who is liable when an accident is caused by a distracted driver.

According national reports, the court considered the claim of two victims who both lost their legs when a texting teen driver ran into their motorcycle. While they previously settled with the driver, the couple also sued the person texting the driver claiming that she with was ‘electronically present’ and thus, equally responsible for causing the accident.

While the specific suit was not upheld due to insufficient evidence, the judges agreed that remote texters could indeed be held liable for distracting someone they knew was driving.


We applaud the court. Not only did this case elevate the texting-and-driving epidemic to a new level, it also created spirited discussion and new law around how technology is shaping culture and the individual responsibility required.

The court compared texting a driver to someone screaming out in the back seat of a car and causing a driver to wreck, noting that the physical and online worlds function at the same level of accountability.

The court’s language stated: “when the sender ‘has actual knowledge or special reason to know’ … from prior texting experience or otherwise, that the recipient will view the text while driving, the sender has breached a duty of care to the public by distracting the driver.”

Following the ruling, a plaintiff must prove liability (of a remote texter) for causing negligence. Admittedly, this will be very tough to prove, but nonetheless, the ruling is a very bold move by New Jersey courts and sends a clear message that texting and driving is a very big deal that carries big consequences.

As a family safety reminder, we want repost some apps available that can help keep you and your family safe from the temptation of texting and driving.

DriveMode is from AT&T and automatically launches once the car is moving at more than 25 mph. DriveMode responds to all incoming texts and emails, and lets the sender know the recipient is driving and will get back to them. It is available for Androids and Blackberries. The app is free.

DriveOff is an Android app that detects when drivers are traveling over 10 mph. The app shuts off apps and blocks incoming calls and texts. The app is free.

TextBuster requires you to actually install a hardware device into your teen’s car. The hardware temporarily disables text messaging, email and Internet access on your kids’ phone while the vehicle is moving. It is a bit pricier at $199.

Canary is an app that works for both iOS and Android devices. Canary lets parents see their child’s cell phone use in real time, so they can know if their son or daughter uses the phone while driving more than 12 mph. The drawback here is that this app does not disable texts. So, while Canary has great reporting, it may not steer a teen away from the temptation to text and drive. The app is free.

DriveScribe monitors the driver’s speed, and blocks texts and calls while the car is in motion. The app will also tell your teen driver to slow down if they are going too fast. The driver must activate the app “start trip” before driving, then “end trip” when they arrive at their destination. It works on iOS and Androids. The app is free. is a mobile application that reads text messages and emails aloud in real time and automatically responds without drivers touching the mobile phone and works for both iOS and androids. The app is free.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @SafeEyes. (Disclosures).

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Story added 9. September 2013, content source with full text you can find at link above.