THE BLOG
05/30/2012 03:13 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2012

Electronically Present

I'm texting more than ever. I was late to this digital dance but have arrived and am loath to leave. Texting is quick, easier with a smartphone, and handy. I'll admit to texting while driving. I'll further admit to texting someone else while that person's driving. Did I know it was potentially dangerous? Sure, but it was just the one time and, surely, nothing bad would happen.

Something bad happened to Shannon Colonna. She texted her boyfriend, Kyle Best, who became distracted and hit a couple on a motorcycle. David Kulbert's left leg was torn off above the knee and Linda Kulbert had her left leg amputated later. Best was sued by the Kulberts; so was Colonna. The Kulberts' attorney argued Colonna should have known Best was driving while she was texting him and that Colonna was "electronically present" at the scene of the crime, making her liable along with Best for the crash.

The judge, however, ruled there was no way Colonna could have known Best was driving at the time she was texting. In this first-in-the-nation case, the judge ruled it was reasonable for the sender of a text message to assume it is the recipient's responsibility to know if it is safe to respond: "Were I to extend this duty to this case, in my judgment, any form of distraction could potentially serve as the basis for a liability case." Judge Rand added he didn't want the ruling to be used as an excuse for downplaying the importance of paying attention while driving, noting Americans have become almost addicted to wireless communication and stating, "That is the reality of today's world."

Shannon Colonna is off the hook. David and Linda Kulbert are both missing their left legs. David Best paid $775 in fines and was ordered to speak at 14 high schools about the dangers of texting and driving. It's a good thing Best's driver's license wasn't suspended or he'd have to take the bus to those high schools.

But what if the content of Colonna's and Best's texting right before the accident had shown Colonna knew Best was in the act of driving and continued to send him texts anyway? Could Best have argued he was addicted to texting, a door the judge himself opened during his remarks? I don't think we've seen an end to these cases; this case is being appealed by the Kulberts.

According to a United Nations study, in 2010 people worldwide sent 6.1 trillion texts. Texting overtook talking as the preferred way to communicate by cell phone in the 4th quarter of 2007 and never looked back. On the list of driver distractions, put out by the National Transportation Safety Administration on its distraction.gov website, texting is number one. "Because text messaging requires visual, manual and cognitive attention from the driver, it is by far the most alarming distraction." What else made the list after texting? In order: using a cell phone or smart phone, eating and drinking, talking to passengers, grooming, reading, including maps, using a navigation system, watching a video, adjusting a radio, CD player or MP3 player. I don't know about you but I've done everything on this list.

The distraction.gov website is full of dire statistics on injury, disability and death, with a special emphasis on teens. Best and Colonna at the time of the Kulberts' accident were 19 years old. The trajectory of all of their lives has been irrevocably altered. Reading about their situation has caused me to evaluate my own behaviors, whether legal, illegal or just plain foolish. The last thing I want to be present for, "electronically" or otherwise, is a life-altering or life-ending event. I'll just have to wait until I pull over to know if the concert starts at 6:30 or 7. That seems a small price to pay. I think Best, Colonna and the Kulberts would all agree.

For more by Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., click here.

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