Facebook Live Event Turns Tragic for Two Teens in Pennsylvania

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Social media is now a permanent feature of our lives, and it is not going anywhere. Accidents due to texting and social media interaction are only becoming more prevalent as engagement continues. Everyone needs to remember that your post can wait.  

This warning and even plea stem from a recent accident in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania where an 18-year-old girl lost her life while she was live-streaming herself driving down Interstate 380 near Tobyhanna. Moments after opening the popular application on her phone the driver and her passenger suffered fatal injuries when a tractor-trailer ran into the back of their car killing both the driver and her passenger.  

Currently, in Pennsylvania is gearing up to enact more stringent penalties for texting and driving, and Representative Jaret Gibbons has been a major force in campaigning for criminal penalties for texting drivers who kill or seriously injure others. Daniel’s Law will take effect in early January of 2017, and if a texting driver kills or seriously injures another driver as a result of texting and driving then they can face a five-year prison sentence in addition to other penalties. Our Philadelphia car accident lawyers explain Daniel’s Law further.

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Daniel’s Law  

Daniel’s Law was pushed through the Pennsylvania houses by Representative Jaret Gibbons in an effort to curtail the disastrous consequences of texting and driving. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, in 2015 there were 66 fatalities caused by distracted driving, and more than 300 fatalities in the past five years, including Daniel Gallatin, whom the bill is named after. Currently, Pennsylvania law provides in Section 3316:  

No driver shall operate a motor vehicle on a highway or traffic way in this Commonwealth while using an interactive wireless communications device to send, read or write a text-based communication while the vehicle is in motion. A person does not send, read or write a text-based communication when the person reads, selects or enters a telephone number or name in an interactive wireless communications device for the purpose of activating or deactivating a voice communication or a telephone call. 

When signing the bill into law on November 4, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf was quoted as saying:   

This behavior, [texting while driving] which has been allowed to go under-punished for far too long, has been demonstrated to be just as dangerous as drunk driving. Distracted driving has fatal, irreversible, and grave consequences.  

Under the current law, a person who is found in violation of the statute can be charged with a fine of up to $50, which many have cited as being insufficient in light of the gravity of harm that drivers who text and drive pose to others on the road. Under Daniel’s law, in addition to any other penalty provided by law, a person who is texting and driving and kills another can be sentenced to a term in prison of up to five years. Additionally, if a person seriously injures another driver they can be sentenced to two years of confinement.  

Does Going on Facebook Live Bring the Same Consequences as Texting While Driving?  

Facebook Live is a new feature offered by the social media giant Facebook, which allows users to stream live events to the entire Facebook community. This means that when a person goes on the live feature on Facebook it is possible that a large cross-section of people will be able to see their video. Recently, Facebook Live videos have made headlines when users have streamed traffic stops, violent acts, and even deaths. This accident on Interstate 380 was one such event. Reports note that after the crash the Facebook live event continued for approximately seven minutes before it was turned off.

However, if you read the plain text of §3316, the language is fairly narrow, particularly with the language “text-based communication.” While it is evident that this language is meant to cover using social media on your phone, the language of this statute did not predict the growth and prevalence of video-based social media which may not fit the true definition of text-based communication. This argument in no way condones the use of your cell phone and features such as Facebook Live or Snapchat, but merely serves to highlight that social media and technology can rapidly outpace laws.   

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As it stands, it is not illegal to make a cell-phone call while driving, which can make enforcing the distracted driving laws difficult to enforce, particularly when the driver is using a streaming service. 

Involved in an Accident Because of a Distracted Driver and Seeking a Philadelphia Car Accident Lawyer?  

The car accident lawyers at Reiff & Bily can utilize their years of experience and training to fight to increase the likelihood that you will receive an appropriate level of compensation for your injuries following an accident. Our attorneys approach each and every personal injury matter strategically. If you or someone you love has been seriously injured in an accident, call the Northeast Philadelphia personal injury lawyers of The Reiff Law Firm at  (215) 246-9000, or contact us online. 

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