Can Texting While Driving Lead to a Murder Charge


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On February 20, 2011, a teenage driver was sending a text message when he accidentally swerved across the middle line and killed the driver of a vehicle heading in the opposite direction. The incident was clearly an accident, but was the teen's action of composing text messages while driving so wanton and reckless that it could amount to criminal homicide?

A Massachusetts court answered in the affirmative when it convicted the teen of motor vehicle homicide by texting. The teen was sentenced to the maximum sentence available under Massachusetts law

38 states and the District of Columbia have made text messaging while driving a crime. While penalties and details for each state's laws vary, one thing is clear: states are moving to criminalize the dangerous act of sending text messages while driving.

While a number of other laws would have applied to punish those who caused accidents while text messaging, even before the implementation of these laws, by singling out text messaging as a criminal activity while driving, these state legislatures are sending a message. Indeed, even without these laws, had one swerved across traffic and killed another driver, they could have faced criminal charges for reckless driving and vehicular homicide, but adding the element of text messaging makes it clear that these jurisdictions consider this activity just as dangerous as drinking and driving.

Moreover, sending text messages while driving can also lead to enhanced civil liability. Showing that someone was sending text messages while driving, even if they are not formally charged criminally, can go to proving that the driver was acting in a wantonly reckless manner. As a result, this could potentially lead to enhanced judgments, such as awards of punitive damages.

Many mobile phone service providers are beginning to offer services that will disable phones if the device's internal GPS determines that the phone is in a moving vehicle. This may be a very wise option to consider, particularly for concerned parents of young drivers. Remember, parents can also be held liable for their minor child's actions, meaning if your teenaged driver is texting and causes an accident, you could be on the hook for the resulting damages, as well.

If you have been the victim of a driver who was texting and caused an accident, you should contact a personal injury attorney to assist you with your claim. On the other hand, if you or someone you know has been charged with causing an accident while text messaging, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. Because this is such a new area of the law, it may be largely untested in many jurisdictions and could require the skills of an innovative attorney to think of creative means of challenging its various elements.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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