12/06/2009 11:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Caught at the Crossroads of Empathy and Reality

I was driving back from work Friday night -- 10:00 or so, I guess -- when I looked to see an older gentleman with the interior light of his car on, plunking away at his cell phone, desperately trying to send a text as he drove.

I slowed down and let him pass.

And I wondered, what was so damned important that he had to drive, text, lights-on and steer with his knees?  I wanted to strangle the guy.


But... here's the thing.  I wanted to strangle HIM.  Not his phone, car or cell service.  So, today, I read this:

Jennifer Smith's 61-year-old mother was killed last year in Oklahoma city by a driver talking on a cell phone. Now, the New York Times reports Smith is suing both the company that provided the driver's phone, and his wireless service.

Smith hopes to prove that the companies should have foreseen the dangers and that they failed to provide adequate warnings.

Legal experts said her lawsuit, currently the only such case and one of only a handful ever filed, faces steep challenges but also raises interesting questions about responsibility for behavior that is a threat to everyone on the road.

In September, Smith was interviewed by the AP for an article about drivers with cell phones. "This isn't just a small problem," Smith said. "This is an epidemic."

Empathy first.

I am sorry for this woman's loss.  To lose a loved one to someone else's stupidity - I can't even imagine how horrible that would be.

Reality, second.  You have to blame the stupid, not the thing the stupid is using.

It's not AT&T's fault if - enraged that while redialing a call for the fourth time because the call keeps getting dropped - a person slams into the car in front of them.  

There's a lot of stuff you can easily blame AT&T for.  Or Verizon, or Sprint, I suppose.  But a person's actions while using their phone, or their service, is NOT one of them.

So I am sorry for this loss.  But there is someone to blame here - and it's not the cell service provider or the people who made the phone.  

It's the jackass who thought sending an "LOL" was more important than the life of a person around them.

Sue THAT person.  For all they might be worth.  

That's a message worth sending.