Entries in Distracted Driving (2)


N.J., Other States Turn Focus to Pets in Fight Against Distracted Driving

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- First, it was pedestrians distracted by their cellphones and other gadgets. Now, New Jersey is taking a hard look at drivers who travel with their pets unrestrained.

Under a new law, police and officers with the state’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could fine a driver $250-$1,000 for giving a four-legged family member free rein of the car while it’s moving.

Some in the Garden State scoffed at the news, but New Jersey is not the only state to consider or take up legislation to curb what transportation experts consider another contributor to distracted driving.

Arizona, Connecticut and Maine residents can be penalized under distracted-driving laws if they’re driving with a pet in their lap. In Hawaii, drivers are not allowed to drive with pets in their laps; Rhode Island and Oregon are considering doing the same.

According to a 2011 pet passenger safety survey by AAA and Kurgo pet products, 65 percent of dog owners admitted to engaging in at least one potentially distracting activity while driving with their dog.

In that group, 52 percent said that activity included petting their pet, even when the animal was in the back seat. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, looking away from the road for just two seconds can double a driver’s risk of being in a crash.

“The devastation to your pet and any other passengers can be incredible” in the event of an accident, Heather Hunter, a AAA spokeswoman, told ABC News Tuesday.

In Cranberry, Pa., David Reed ran a red light in April and crashed into another vehicle after his dog crawled into his lap. His 2-year-old basset hound hit the windshield and landed on the dashboard but didn’t sustain any injuries.

He and his daughter were not hurt but the other driver had to be treated for injuries.

“You see people doing it [driving with a dog] all the time,” he said. “You just don’t think it’s going to happen....I never gave it a thought -- my pet being a distraction to me when I was driving or anything.”

AAA’s Hunter said restraining a pet while traveling in a vehicle minimized distractions to the driver, protected other passengers and also allowed emergency personnel to get to the vehicle and treat passengers if an accident occurred. Restraints also stop a pet from running off when a door is opened.

Gordie Spater, Kurgo’s president, said that many pet owners simply didn’t know that car restraints existed for their pets and that they were easy to use and relatively inexpensive.

He said that even though his company did not advocate laws such as New Jersey’s, it had partnered with AAA and Toyota to get the message out.

“Our biggest thing is to get the word out that [restraints] are available,” he said. “Things are available [and] the cost is low. You should be doing this.”

Click here for a 25-percent discount off harnesses at the ASPCA’s online store using the code SAFETY. The deal is available through Friday.

And click here for tips on traveling safely with your pet this summer and any time of the year.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Judge Clears Woman from Boyfriend's Texting-and-Driving Lawsuit

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(MORRIS COUNTY, N.J.) -- A New Jersey Superior Court judge ruled Friday that a woman who sent a text message to her boyfriend while he was driving cannot be held liable for the motor vehicle accident he subsequently caused.

The decision stemmed from a 2009 case in which Kyle Best, 19, was responding to a text message from his girlfriend, Shannon Colonna, 19, while he was driving his pickup truck when he crashed into a motorcycle and severely injured David and Linda Kubert.

In an unprecedented legal twist, the Kuberts' attorney, Stephen "Skippy" Weinstein, amended the original complaint filed against Best to include Colonna as a defendant in the case, saying that she had been in frequent texting contact with Best throughout the day and ought to have known he was driving.

But Judge David Rand ruled Friday in Morris County Superior Court that Colonna could not be held responsible for Best's distracted driving.

"Drivers are bombarded with all forms of distractions," Rand told the courtroom, according to The Star-Ledger, a newspaper in New Jersey. "I find that there was no aiding, abetting here in the legal sense. I find it is unreasonable to impose a duty upon the defendant in this case under these facts. Were I to extend this duty, in my judgment, any form of distraction could potentially serve as basis of a liability case."

Rand said implicating Colonna as liable for an accident caused by text messaging when she wasn't present in Best's car was an argument that had never been addressed in any previous lawsuits, according to The Daily Record.

Weinstein said in a news conference that the Kuberts, who both became amputees as a result of the accident, "are understandably disappointed with the court's decision today," but that they plan to appeal it once the lawsuit against Best has been decided. The Kuberts recently moved to Florida from New Jersey for financial reasons and were just denied permanent disability status from an insurance company, Weinstein said.

Proceedings against Best, who pleaded guilty to distracted driving, will continue within the next few months.

Colonna's attorney, Joseph McGlone, did not respond to requests for comment following Rand's decision, but he had argued that she shouldn't be held accountable for the accident when she wasn't present in the vehicle.

"I don't think it's a valid claim against her," he previously told ABC News.

McGlone added he had never heard of a case similar to the one against his client being brought to trial.

But Weinstein argued that the couple's back-and-forth texting was tantamount to a verbal conversation.

"She may not have been physically present, but she was electronically present," Weinstein said.

Best pleaded guilty to three motor vehicle citations earlier this year, but his driver's license was not suspended, according to The Daily Record.

The case has again brought up the question of how to balance safe driving with distracting mobile communication devices.

In December last year, the National Transportation Safety Board called for a ban on all "personal electronics" in cars except for those needed for emergencies or driver assistance.

Regardless of whether Weinstein's novel argument that Colonna partially responsible for the crash is ever repeated in future cases, he said the Kuberts "are gratified that if by bringing the case they have accomplished the goal of making people think before they text, whether while driving or while the recipient is driving."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio