DWT/Driving While Texting: An Idea Whose Time has Went

March 16th, 2007 by

As if we don’t have enough distractions as we hurtle ourselves from Point A to Point B in four ton vehicles, we read that DWT – driving while texting – has become an issue of sufficient magnitude to warrant legislative intervention. Lawmakers in Washington state have moved to establish stiff fines for this absurdly dangerous practice. You can make a case that a vehicle can be operated safely while the driver talks on a cell phone – preferably with a head piece – but no case can be made for safe driving while the operator’s eyes are actually focused on the mobile device. Texting, like alcohol, does not go with driving.
Dying to Text
Which brings us to the sorry tale of Lucas Rolin. Lucas may be the first person in this country to die while texting. State troopers believe that he lost control of his pick up truck while trying to send a message. It was the last thing he ever did. A memorial established by family and friends can be found here. In England, we read about Marni Triggs, of Rousham Road in Tackley, who died after her Peugeot 205 swerved into the path of a truck. The coroner mentioned evidence that Miss Triggs’ phone had been receiving and sending text messages just before the crash.
As with a number of other safety issues, the UK is ahead of us on this particular unsafe practice. Drivers caught texting are subject to $100 fines plus 3 points on the driving record. In South Wales, it’s far more severe. You can be fined a whopping $1,800 for texting while driving. That’s a lot of money for a little (and presumably trivial) message.
A Criminal and Negligent Act?
Here’s the part that should get the attention of every employer with employees on the road. Police in England will routinely obtain mobile phone records of drivers involved in serious or fatal road accidents. The use of a phone during an accident may be regarded by the courts as an aggravating factor in the same way as drunk driving. It may result in jail time for the employee. And employers may pay through the legal theory of negligent entrustment: by allowing employees to text while driving, the employer made the accident possible. UK employers have been advised to prohibit cell phone talk for employees who are on the road. That’s an extreme measure and one that might seem impractical, but there’s no denying the potential exposure.
For employers who have already gone to the trouble of issuing policies on cell phone use while driving, a modification of the policy is in order, explicitly prohibiting the sending of text messages while driving. That may seem like something from “Department of Duh,” but given that written policies are a key part of the discovery process in determining negligence, the language is now needed. Be forewarned.