New York Fights Distracted Driving with Textalyzer Bill

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Distracted driving is a growing problem nationwide. Safety advocates are searching for new and better ways to prevent texting while driving. Now New York legislators have come up with an idea: the Textalyzer.

Imagine a device that could detect the presence of distractions during a traffic stop – just like a breathalyzer can show drunk driving. That’s what one New York legislator is hoping to create.

The technology would detect whether the driver’s phone had sent a text, email, or anything else forbidden by state distracted driving statutes. An officer responding to an auto accident could take the driver’s phone and use the Textalyzer to connect to the operating system and check for recent activity.

New York Textalyzer Bill

For the Textalyzer to work, though, state legislatures need change the law. In 2014, the United States Supreme Court determined that a person has a right to privacy in the contents of his or her phone. To get access, a police officer will first need to get a warrant.

To address this, the New York legislature is considering a bill that would authorize the use of the Textalyzer and create license penalties for refusing to turn over one’s phone. The bill is patterned after the drunk driving laws from the 1980s. In New York, like Michigan, refusing to take a breathalyzer automatically triggers a driver’s license suspension. The bill would do the same for a Textalyzer.

Textalyzer laws are one way to make texting while driving less attractive to busy drivers. Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the new Partnership for Distraction Free Driving, told the New York Times:

“[Distracted Driving] is not being treated as seriously as drunk driving, and it needs to be. . . . It’s dangerous, devastating, crippling, and it’s a killer, and still socially acceptable.”

But the bill faces opposition from civil rights advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union because of privacy concerns. Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York chapter says:

“It really invites police to seize phones without justification or warrant.”

That opposition could put the Textalyzer bill on hold.

Nationwide Distracted Driving Campaign

In the meantime, Jay Winsten, an associate dean and the director of the Center for Health Communication at Harvard’s School of Public Health, has been taking a more positive approach. He has been partnering with TV networks, sports leagues, and corporations to create ad campaigns against distracted driving. YouTube has already agreed to recruit stars and create original content on its site. Winsten sees the two campaigns working together. He told the Times:

“Right now, we have a reed, not a stick. . . . [The Textalyzer would] “make enforcement that much more credible.”

Distracted driving is a growing problem nationwide. Innovative solutions like the Textalyzer are necessary to get drivers’ attention off the phone and back on the road.

David Christensen is a distracted driving attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. If you have been injured in a distracted driving accident, contact Christensen Law for a free consultation today.