PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon and Washington are among 46 states with texting and driving bans. But that hasn’t stopped thousands of drivers from doing it anyway.
Distracted driving accidents are skyrocketing, and KOIN 6 News found out that even if you’re not behind the wheel — but are texting someone you know is driving — you may be in trouble, too.
In some states, the fine for someone caught texting-and-driving is $20. In Oregon it’s $160. But for families of those killed or injured by distracted drivers, making other texters liable for accidents is a new way to get people to take this seriously.
Drivers talking on the phone with their hand off the wheel are easy to spot. Texters are tougher to catch, but not for trained spotters like Lt. Jarrod Prater with Tigard PD.
“It all starts off with that behavior coming by not looking up and noticing what’s going on ahead of them in traffic,” Praters said, adding he sees it all the time.
For many, texting and driving is a habit and they don’t expect to get caught. But drivers reading a text message take their eyes off the road for about 4 seconds. At 55 mph, a car will travel the length of a football field.
“The number one thing we hear with distracted driving crashes is that ‘I didn’t think it would happen to me’ and the second thing is, ‘It happened so fast,'” Prater said.
KOIN 6 News asked personal injury attorney Patrick Angel to take a look at recent cases from the East Coast.
Lawsuits are now holding remote texters liable, or partly liable, in driving-and-texting crashes — if you send a text when you know someone is behind the wheel.
In a New Jersey case, the justices wrote: “The sender of a text message can potentially be liable if an accident is caused by texting, but only if the sender knew that the recipient would view the text while driving and thus be distracted.”
“It’s a high bar, but if you have evidence the remote texter knew the recipient was driving and knew would check messages, (it) could have basis for liability,” Angel told KOIN 6 News.
In that New Jersey case, it was not proved the sender knew the driver would read the message while driving. But in a Pennsylvania case this spring — where a driver killed a motorcyclist — the judge ruled 2 people texting the driver at the same time can be included in the wrongful death lawsuit.
A jury will decide how much the texters are to blame.
Both cases open the door to blaming someone not in the car.
“We realize it’s going to be hard to get verdicts with the evidence, but it’s a message, a shot across the bow,” Angel said.
Cell phone records can become part of a court case. Attorneys can get copies of your calls and texts when there’s an accident.
In some states, lawmakers are looking at ways to make remote texters liable under state laws, like bar owners sued for drunk customers who cause accidents.
Oregon State Sen. Peter Courtney told KOIN 6 News he intends to press for tougher penalties for texting-and-driving. Previously, he wanted the fine to be $1000, but said fellow lawmakers fail to see this issue as serious as drinking and driving.