Court rulings in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are taking texting-while-driving laws down a new road, opening the door to not only holding the offending driver liable for a car accident, but perhaps also the person texting the driver, Consumerist reports. In neither case has anyone (yet) had to legally assume this burden: In the 2013 New Jersey appellate case, the "remote texter" was let off the hook because there wasn't enough evidence to show she knew her friend—who severely injured two people after slamming into their motorcycle—was driving when she texted him, the ABA Journal reports. And in the Pennsylvania case, the judge's ruling didn't hold responsible the two texters who were sending messages to the driver when she crashed into a motorcycle, killing that driver—it was simply determined the texters were fair game for the suit, per the Legal Intelligencer. But the fact that holding non-driving texters liable for car crashes is even being considered is starting to slowly impact the legal landscape on distracted driving.
The New Jersey and Pennsylvania cases underscore the challenges in such cases. For instance, it's not enough to hold a texter liable simply because he or she texted a driver: Certain conditions must be met, such as knowing (or having good reason to believe) the driver would pick up the phone to check out texts while driving, as well as proving a "special relationship" exists between texter and recipient to influence the recipient picking up. But these kinds of cases, as well as other proposed crackdowns on car texters (including New York's controversial "textalyzer" bill), show the issue is being given heavier weight. "People often see distracted driving as a socially acceptable sin … an innocuous guilty pleasure in which everyone indulges," a University of South Carolina law professor tells Vocativ. "The same used to be true of drunk driving ... These legal developments could signal that a similar change in thinking is underway regarding distracted driving." (Jenny McCarthy's son called the cops for her texting-while-driving transgression.)