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“Textalyzer” Bill Would Enable Cops to Detect Distracted Driving Like DWI

State lawmakers want to give police the ability to field test motorists' cell phones following a crash.

txt_drive
Photo: Wikipedia

Sponsored by Brooklyn Assembly Member Felix Ortiz and Westchester State Senator Terrence Murphy, the bill would let investigators use a "textalyzer" -- which detects electronic device usage without revealing data stored on the device -- after crashes that result in property damage, injury, or death.

Driver inattention and distraction contributed to over 12,000 crashes in New York City in 2014, according to state DMV data, including more than 9,800 crashes that resulted in injury and 38 fatal collisions.

Driver phone records, which open up more data than the "textalyzer" bill proposes to, are obtainable only with a court order. As it stands, it's practically never clear whether investigators look at phone records after a crash or not. If police were given the tools to check for driver distraction in much the same way they test for the presence of alcohol, it should make for an effective deterrent.

The bill would allow motorists involved in crashes to refuse to submit phones for field testing, absent a subpoena, but drivers who do so would be subject to a license suspension.

The proposed legislation was prompted by the family of a college student, Evan Lieberman, who was killed in 2011 when the driver of a car he was riding in crashed in Orange County. The DMV determined that the driver was using his phone before the crash, which injured two other passengers.

“There's a significant number of drivers who continually engage in reckless behavior, such as texting, using apps and browsing the web on their mobile devices while behind the wheel,” Ortiz said in a press release. “These people will continue to put themselves and others at risk unless we come up with a protocol to successfully stop them.”

The bill is currently in committee in the Assembly and the Senate.

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