Can You Be Sued for Texting a Driver?

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A pair of legal cases may mark a watershed moment in how America treats distracted driving.

A pair of legal cases and a piece of legislation may mark a watershed moment in how America treats distracted driving.

Last month, a Georgia couple filed a lawsuit against 18-year-old Christal McGee and the social media app Snapchat. The lawsuit states that McGee was driving about 107 miles per hour on a highway when she hit a car driven by a Georgia man, Wentworth Maynard, who suffered a traumatic brain injury.

The suit alleges McGee was encouraged to speed by a Snapchat feature that tracks the speed of users while they are driving.

The New York Times reported that McGee said Maynard “pulled his vehicle out in front of [hers],” and that Snapchat said it discourages use of the speed feature while driving.

The second legal case is playing out in Pennsylvania. Last week, a judge ruled that two men who texted a driver who was in a fatal accident were also liable for the accident, according to the media and technology publication Vocativ. The two men will face negligence and wrongful-death claims.

Also last month, New York lawmakers proposed what has become known as the “textalyzer” bill. It would allow police officers to take phones from drivers after accidents to determine whether they were using a phone against state law, such as by texting or emailing while driving.

One expert says the recent legal cases and legislation might suggest society is shifting its approach to distracted driving.

Bryant Walker Smith, who teaches law and engineering at the University of South Carolina and is a former transportation engineer, tells Vocativ:

“People often see distracted driving as a socially acceptable sin… The same used to be true of drunk driving, smoking and physical abuse [and other] actions with actual victims. These legal developments could signal that a similar change in thinking is underway regarding distracted driving. They could also help accelerate that change.”

What’s your take on the use of phones behind the wheel? Should third parties be held liable if they text a driver who then crashes? Share your thoughts below or on Facebook.

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