BY Susan M. Brazas for Lawyers.com
"You sent HOW MANY text messages?" "You were driving AND texting at the same time?" "Those angelic students actually texted during every one of my lectures!"
This new mode of communication - which might be termed a modern-day Morse code - has led to debate among politicians, delight among teens and anxiety among parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently warned that due to the over-use of text messaging, today's teens face a future of joint and muscle difficulties caused by repetitive trauma to the thumbs and fingers.
Texting: A Hazardous Activity
One teen in California was recently in the national news for her stunningly high text usage. The teen logged 303,000 text messages in one month, which works out to be 10,100 per day, 421 per hour, and 7 per minute. She was quoted as explaining, "I'm popular. I can't help it."
The Michigan Supreme Court announced that effective September 1, 2009, trial judges are to instruct jurors not to use any electronic forms of communication, including texting, and tweeting, while in the jury box or in deliberations. This was prompted by prosecutor's complaints that jurors were distracted by their cell phones and Blackberrys, and were even using the devices to "research" issues in the cases.
Jurors (or potential jurors) who think they are "above the law" and try to skate around such rules may find themselves in hot water with the court. Judges can, and often do, exercise their contempt powers against people who skip jury duty when called. Also, judges can hold jurors in contempt who disregard their duties as described to them in the initial gathering in the jury assembly room. These duties include the duty to give full and fair attention and consideration to the evidence and to the trial process.
Texting Can Compromise Your Legal Obligations
Many cities, including Chicago, have enacted laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving unless the driver is using a hands-free device. Some states have enacted traffic laws known as "distracted driving" laws which specifically prohibit such activity. As texting is, by definition, not hands-free, texting on a cell phone would likely get you a ticket for violating laws banning cell phone use while driving.
You could also be found negligent for driving while texting. While driving, you have a duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of yourself and others by obeying traffic signs and laws. You breach those duties when disregarding traffic signs or laws, or when otherwise not acting as a reasonable person would under the circumstances. If such conduct causes injury, to yourself or others, you may be found partially or completely at fault for the injury.
If you are texting or talking on a cell phone at the time that you cause an accident, your legal position will be compromised. If any witnesses observed you texting or talking shortly before or at the time of the accident, or if you admit to anyone that you were doing so, that will be documented and remembered by the police and/or by the witnesses. Finally, cell phone records may be subpoenaed - so even if there aren't witnesses, it's still possible for police to find out whether you were texting while driving. A lawyer will be able to give you advice on the extent that this will impact your case, if you eventually sue or are sued for the accident.