“One text or call could wreck it all.” “Words can hurt.” “C U in the ER.” “SMS.MMS.RIP.” “Stop the texts. Stop the wrecks.” “No post is worth a life.” “It can wait.” We’ve all seen at least one of these campaigns against distracted driving. In fact, these campaigns have been so successful, 46 states have banned texting while driving. And yet, more drivers are using their phones while on the road.
According to The New York Times, survey results show that Americans are still texting, using Facebook, using Snapchat and taking selfies while driving. Although deaths on the road have declined in recent years, they rose almost 8 percent last year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the number of distracted drivers is also increasing. That said, it may be safe to assume that distracted driving is at least partially responsible for the increase in traffic fatalities last year.
The chief of the NHTSA said in a speech last month, “radical change requires radical ideas.” So, legislatures and experts in public health have tried to view distracted driving in a different light by treating distracted driving similar to drunk driving offenses.
New York lawmakers are pushing to give police officers a new piece of technology that would perform a roadside test for cell phone activity, similar to the way a police officer would use a breathalyzer to test for alcohol. Lawmakers have dubbed this device the “Textalyzer.”
This is how it works: Once a police officer arrives at the scene of an accident, they could ask for both driver’s phones. The officer would then be able to use the Textalyzer to tap into the phone’s operating system and check the recent activity.
The main concern with the Textalyzer is privacy restrictions. Normally, police would need a warrant to access data or phone records to prove a driver was engaged in distracted driving. However, the Textalyzer would not give police access to the content on the phone, be it text messages, e-mails or phone records. Rather, it would simply show what application was in use. For example, it would tell police e-mail was being used, rather than show the content of the e-mail. This way, privacy rights are still intact and police can accurately say whether the driver was on the phone and contributed to the accident.
Catching distracted drivers is a difficult feat for police officers and it is very easy for offenders to lie. The process of obtaining cell phone data is not easy. The Textalyzer provides a way for officers to enforce the ban on texting while driving. And once enforcement increases, it is likely drivers will be discouraged from responding to those little pings and beeps coming from their cell phones.
Koonz, McKenney, Johnson, DePaolis & Lightfoot, L.L.P. is a personal injury law firm that fights for victims who have been injured in car accidents in the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas.