Last week, the “Twitter-verse” and blogo-sphere were all agog with stories about how if you text a driver who then gets into accident, you could be arrested.
That is, you could be held liable for sending a text message to a driver.
Well, apparently there are a lot of people around who learned how to read a court decision by watching episodes of “Law and Order,” because that’s not what a New Jersey court said.
Unless, that is, you take bits and pieces of what the opinion, and then string them together to make it say what you want.
But it wasn’t just bloggers who read the decision wrong.
CNN, “USA Today” and innumerable other media outlets also misinterpreted the court ruling.
Here’s what the New Jersey court really said: You might be liable if you are driving in New Jersey, and if you send a text message, and if you know the recipient is driving, and if you know the recipient will look at the message, and that reading the text caused an accident.
That’s a whole lot of “if’s” that have to happen before the sender could be arrested.
It is also important to note that this was a decision by a New Jersey appellate court, so it has no impact anywhere outside the state.
And it is a long way from a state appellate decision to the U.S. Supreme Court where the ruling could have a national impact.
What happened here was a couple of things.
First, reporters rushed into print without a careful reading of the decision.
Second, headline writers took the most extreme possibility and made it into a probability.
The headlines and leads were certainly dramatic, and attracted a lot of attention, but they were also extremely misleading.
So yes, there is a possibility, however slight, that someone could be arrested for sending a text message. Of course, there’s also a possibility that Stones River will turn into chocolate milk, but I wouldn’t count on it.