I have blogged about texting while driving so many times I have lost track. (Though I never blog while driving. Just thought I’d mention that!)
This is not just another nag-post about the dangers of texting while driving (though it is that, too). It’s about a new proposed law and a new technology that may allow the police to “catch” driving texters and prosecute them in the same way they do drunk drivers now.
As you know, most states have banned texting (or even holding a device with one hand) while driving. Some States have spent loads of money on public service campaigns aimed at getting drivers to refrain from texting behind the wheel. If you are in New York, you have probably seen the “it can wait” ads, as well as the new signs on the Thruway announcing “text stops” (formerly “rest stops”). See photo above left.
Still, the problem persists. Boy does it! Surveys show that even more drivers, even more often, are texting while driving, and even using Facebook and other social media from behind the wheel. But the problem is this: How do you “catch” someone texting while driving? The police can obtain a warrant to gain access to smart phone records, but this takes time and resources and thus discourages the police from investigating on a regular basis. Compare this to when someone appears drunk while driving. The officer who pulls them over or investigates the crash can immediately administer a “breathalyzer” if he has any suspicions. But there is nothing like that for texting while driving. Or is there?
Enter the “Textalyzer”. See photo above right. The device is the texting equivalent of the Breathalyzer. A police officer investigating a crash or pulling over a driver would use the Textalyzer to instantly examine the operating system of the driver’s smart phone to check for recent activity. The textalyzer shows whether the smart phone has been used to email, text, etc. recently but does not give access to the contents of the emails, texts, etc.
Under a first-of-its kind proposed law in New York a warrant would not be needed for an officer to use a Textalyzer to extract this limited information. And refusal to hand over a phone for textalyzing could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, just as a driver’s refusal to allow a breathalyzer does now. If the Textalyzer shows distracted driving was going on, the driver could be arrested just like a drunk driver. A warrant would then be needed for further analysis of the phone data to see exactly when the driver was using the phone and what he was doing with it.
The Textalyzer legislation has been called Evan’s Law for 19-year old Evan Lieberman who died in a crash when he was asleep in the back of a friend’s car. The police did not bother getting a warrant to look into the driver’s phone to see whether the driver had been texting, but Evan’s father later brought a civil suit, and then subpoenaed the phone. Lo and behold: the driver had been texting right before the crash.
This is a great new technology and great new proposed law for combating distracted driving. Together they will save lives.
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