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Texting while driving officially becomes illegal on January 1, 2008. The law is a secondary violation, meaning that a police officer must first spot another violation (such as a person not wearing a seatbelt or speeding) before someone who is texting can be pulled over. This law and the law against cell phone use while driving (which will be enforced starting July 1, 2008) are attempts to decrease the number and the severity of collisions. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute found that 80 percent of collisions involved distracted drivers.

I don’t think this new law will affect personal injury claims. For someone to be legally liable for causing a collision, he or she must be negligent. If someone was texting or using a cell phone while driving, became distracted and caused an accident, we’d agree that he or she was negligent, even if a specific criminal or civil infraction statute like this one didn’t exist. This illustrates the importance of our civil justice system–people who negligently injure others can be held responsible for their actions through money damages even if the government couldn’t punish them under the criminal law.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Car and Motorcycle Accidents.

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