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As a society, we know that distracted driving can be even more dangerous than drunk driving. The breathalyzer, invented roughly half a century ago, has aided police officers in determining whether or not drivers are under the influence of alcohol while on the road. Its inception has been a nail in the fight against drunk driving and has drastically decreased the rate of this dangerous crime. But now, distracted driving, similarly as dangerous as drunk driving, has become extremely prevalent. A study composed by AT&T revealed that 7/10 individuals will use their smartphones while driving – whether it’s to text, use an app, or even video chat.
Now, an invention is in the works to be used by law enforcement that will combat distracted driving much like the breathalyzer. It’s been dubbed “The Textalyzer” by its manufacturer, Cellebrite, and is currently awaiting approval for guidance for manufacturing the final design. It would only be used by police officers following a crash, and much like a breathalyzer, if a driver refuses to use it, they risk having their license suspended. The purpose of the Textalyzer is to help a police officer determine whether or not a driver involved in an accident was texting or using a mobile app while the accident occurred.
A police officer would only use the Textalyzer after an accident and so long as hand-held use of a phone was not already observed. They would ask you to take out and unlock your mobile device so that they can plug in the Textalyzer and extract the information they need. Your phone would remain in your hands during the test. It would determine if you were texting during the time of your accident (but not extract what was texted or the identity of the recipient), and what apps you may have been using (but not what you were doing with these apps). Should you refuse to submit to the test, you may risk having your license suspended (much like what would happen if you refused to submit to a breathalyzer test).
Proponents for the Textalyzer see plenty of benefits. In many states, police officers can issue a ticket if they witness a driver operating their vehicle with a phone in their hands. However, if a police officer arrives at the scene of an accident caused by cell use, without an admission no ticket can be issued. Only during the discovery process of a car accident case may phone records be obtained (and it may be difficult to subpoena those records without enough evidence that a defendant was on their phone at the time of the crash). This data is limited, though, lacking any indication of app usage. Proponents for the Textalyzer argue that without it, we will remain with a limited ability to accurately assess the scope of the distracted driving problem.
Proponents also believe the Textalyzer would be a strong deterrent to distracted driving since drivers know police can determine cell usage while on the road, and if they refuse the test, their license may result in a license suspension.
Opponents of the Textalyzer see the test as intrusive or even more intrusive than a blood test, which requires a warrant. Many individuals have apps on their phone which they want to keep private, ie., “Narcotics Anonymous Recovery Companion.” Critics also contrast the reasons law enforcements would use a breathalyzer compared to the reasons they would use a Textalyzer. Whereas a breathalyzer would be used if erratic driving behavior was witnessed (veering from lane to lane, crossing into the shoulder, blurred speech witnessed after an accident, etc.,) that actually suggest a driver is intoxicated, a Textalyzer can be used simply because there was an accident. Critics of the Textalyzer also question the devices reliability as smart phone technology is continually changing.
For the partners at Palermo Law, we believe anything that will act as a deterrent to distractive driving is worth it.