Opinion

Think before you text while driving – A University of Miami student’s guide to the legal implications of this dangerous practice

At least 30 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws banning text messaging while driving (typing electronic messages on a cell phone, known as “texting”).

So far, in 2011, there are three different Florida bills being proposed that would limit cell phone and/or text messaging while driving: One would make sending text messages, emails or instant messages a “primary action” that would result in a $100.00 fine; The other two would make texting-while-driving a “secondary action” where the first offence would be a non-moving violation (with a fine) and other offenses would constitute a moving violation with the possibility of points to your license.

First it is important to understand the difference between a primary action and a secondary action. A secondary action simply means that a police officer cannot pull you over for that reason alone. Police officers can pull you over for primary actions only – but can then add a citation for a secondary action (if applicable).

As a personal injury attorney, I am looking for any evidence of negligence or wrong-doing when an accident occurs. Text message and cell-phone records last forever (i.e. lawyers can subpoena wireless providers to send your cell phone activity on the day in question). I will then use those cell phone records to argue that the wrong-doer’s texting while driving activity contributed or caused the accident. I’m doing this regardless of the proposed law banning texting while driving, however, if it does become illegal, it will make my job that much easier to prove negligence.

As a primary offense, some are concerned that banning texting while driving would provide police with a pretextual reason to stop anyone in the car. What if you are just looking down? On a very basic level, anytime you take your eyes off the road, you are creating a dangerous situation. Does this mean we should ban changing radio stations and adjusting your air conditioning while driving? Others have expressed privacy concerns: i.e. will officers start reading people’s text messages to confirm whether or not they were recently texting?

We certainly have to balance these concerns against larger safety concerns.

Some studies have suggested that texting-while-driving has a very similar effect as drinking-while-driving. Police officers seem to indicate that you will be surprised at how long people take their eyes off the road. If more than 10 seconds, they are probably texting…and you probably want that person pulled over even if that is not the case, because no matter what you happen to be doing – if your eyes are off the road for anywhere near 10 seconds, or more, you are undoubtedly creating a dangerous situation for yourself and everyone else on the road. Based on the pending Florida legislation to ban texting while driving, and, more importantly, based on the extreme safety concerns, it is imperative to refrain from texting while driving your car to protect your safety and any potential legal liability.  From “LOL” to “OMG!!” – realize the dangers of texting while driving and wait to send any messages until you stop driving.

Neufeld, Kleinberg & Pinkiert P.A. serves their injured clients statewide with offices in South and Central Florida. The firm’s attorneys specialize in personal-injury cases, including high-profile automobile negligence and defective-design cases. NK&P’s practice area include automobile and motorcycle accidents; medical malpractice; premises liability; defective products; brain injury; and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). For more information, visit www.nkplaw.com, call 1-800-379-TEAM (8326), or email Jason directly at jneufeld@nkplaw.com.

March 30, 2011

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.