Despite warnings to the contrary, a lot of people use their phones while behind the wheel.
How many? According to a 2013 AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety report, 67 percent of drivers say they’ve done it at least once. And 28 percent admit to doing it regularly.
If that doesn’t scare or worry you, the following should do the trick:
- Studies have shown that sending a text takes your eyes off the road for about five seconds
- Research from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggests driving while texting is six times more dangerous than driving drunk
- In 2014, accidents related to distracted driving killed 3,179 Americans and injured 431,000, according to the US Department of Transportation
- Also from the DOT: distracted driving played a role in 10 percent of fatal car crashes and 18 percent of crashes resulting in injuries that year
Protect yourself and your loved ones from these life-altering incidents by making sure you have the right types and amounts of auto insurance coverage.
The Device That Could Turn Things Around
Those numbers may change for the better if a new device makes inroads at police departments across the country.
This device, called the Textalyzer, works like the breathalyzers used to check drivers’ blood alcohol levels. Specifically, it’s able to detect if someone was using their phone when a crash occurred.
The Textalyzer does this by extracting and decoding data like call logs, contacts, text messages, and media files, according to maker Cellebrite.
At the same time, it maintains the privacy of data stored on these phones. In other words, all conversations, numbers, photos, and more should be safe if you come face to face with a Textalyzer-carrying cop.
Only For New Yorkers—For Now
For now, that’s only a possibility if you live in New York. And even then, it’s not possible at this moment.
That’s because a piece of legislation—known as "Evan's Law”—related to devices like the Textalyzer is still making its way through the New York Senate. (The state’s transportation committee approved it 16-to-2 in March. The entire legislature has yet to vote on it.)
If New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law, it would “empower … law enforcement with technology” that can “determine cellphone usage without an inquiry into the content.” This will help them enforce laws that prohibit using portable electronic devices while behind the wheel. It also should help them when they use gathered data in court.
Another noteworthy part of the legislation states that drivers who refuse to turn over their phones can lose their licenses.
Unsurprisingly, some are cheering this bill’s—and this device’s—introduction, while others are criticizing it.
Ben Lieberman, co-founder of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties, is in the first camp. "When people were held accountable for drunk driving, that's when positive change occurred,” he said in a recent press release.
“It's time to recognize that distracted driving is a similar impairment, and should be dealt with in a similar fashion,” added Lieberman, whose son died in a crash caused by a distracted driver.
Lee Tien and Marc Rotenberg, on the other hand, are against the bill’s passage.
Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, recently told CNN that Evan’s Law is "excessive, unnecessary, and invasive."
Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the news outlet he "seriously doubt[s] this bill is constitutional. A law that essentially requires you to hand over your phone to a cop in a roadside situation without a warrant is a non-starter."
Law, and Device, May Not Be Helpful Anyway
Tien’s argument isn’t without merit. In 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant to search criminal suspects’ phones.
Specifically, the justices said law enforcement can’t lump cellphones and other electronic devices with items like wallets and briefcases that are subject to “limited initial examination.”
Even if the New York bill is signed into law and survives the court challenges that follow, that doesn’t ensure police departments will find it entirely useful.
Why? Proving when an accident occurred isn’t easy. As a result, knowing when a phone’s last text was sent may not help much when it comes to proving such activity distracted the driver.
For the time being, police will have to stick to what they do now when they think distracted driving caused a crash. That is, they’ll subpoena cellular providers to get suspects’ phone records.