You heard me right. Not a breathalyzer, but a texalyzer. A new device has been developed that could help law enforcement determine whether a person was using a cell phone at the time a traffic collision occurred.
Just as a breathalyzer can help determine whether alcohol in a person’s system played a part in a traffic collision, the texalyzer can help law enforcement and prosecutors determine whether a driver’s texting possibly played a part in a traffic collision.
By connecting the phone via a cord to the device, law enforcement would be able to know what apps were open and in use with a time stamp.
Lawmakers in New York and several other cities are considering allowing law enforcement to use the device to crack down on texting while driving. It is currently illegal in California to “drive a motor vehicle while holding and operating a handheld wireless telephone.” This provision includes texting while driving.
Cellebrite is the company behind the device and has been working with Ben Lieberman of New Castle, N.Y. whose son was killed in a 2011 car crash.
The driver who collided with the car whom Lieberman’s son was a passenger originally told law enforcement that he had fall asleep behind the wheel which led his car veering into oncoming traffic.
Law enforcement could not check the driver’s phone to see if he was lying without a warrant.
"We often hear, ‘just get a warrant’ or ‘just get the phone records.’ … The implication is that the warrant is like filling out some minor form," said Leiberman. "It’s not. In New York, it involves a D.A. and a judge. Imagine getting a D.A. and a judge involved in every breathalyzer that’s administered, every sobriety test that’s administered."
Leiberman was able to eventually get the phone records through a civil lawsuit which showed that the driver had been texting before the collision.
Privacy advocate groups have concerns with the device which is still in development.
"Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender," says Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. "This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information — so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties."
The bill that Richardson is referring to is New York Senate Bill S2306 which provides for the field testing of mobile telephone and portable electronic device usage while driving after an accident or collision.
Recent studies have shown that distracted driving, like texting while driving, is just as dangerous a drunk driving.
A new study by the Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a leader in smartphone-centric telematics, is one such study.
Some of the study’s key findings included: Distracted driving occurred during 52 percent of trips that resulted in a crash; on drives that involved a crash, the average duration of distraction was 135 seconds; phone distraction lasts for two minutes or more on 20 percent of drives with distraction, and often occurs at high speeds; the worst 10 percent of distracted drivers are 2.3 times more likely to be in a crash than the average driver, and 5.8 times more likely than the best 10 percent of distracted drivers.
You can be sure we’ll be keeping our eyes and ears open for whether law enforcement usage of such a device gains any traction here in California.