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New device may fight distracted driving


The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration issued preliminary estimates that traffic deaths increased by approximately eight percent in 2015, even though fatalities were decreasing in earlier years. The NHTSA attributes this to more people driving and the continuing growth of distracted driving.

Lawmakers in New York are seeking to equip police with a new device, the Textalyzer, to investigate and prevent these car accidents. The device would allow police to conduct a roadside test to determine whether any driver used a personal electronic device.

A police officer arriving at the crash scene would request the phones of any of the drivers and use the Textalyzer to tap into the phone's operating system to determine whether there was any recent texting or email activity and whether the driver violated New York's hands-free driving laws which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ears. Like a refusal to comply with a request to submit to a Breathalyzer test, failure to provide the phone to police could lead to license suspension.

The legislation is called Evan's Law in memory of 19-year-old Evan Lieberman who was killed in a car accident while sleeping in the back of a car in June 2011. The driver, a friend, lost control of his car. Phone records ultimately showed that the driver was texting.

The victim's father sought assistance from the mobile forensics company Cellebrite to build the device. The company is still developing the Textalyzer because the technology is new and the law's requirements are not finalized.

The bill is facing opposition over privacy concerns. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion in 2014 that police could not search a cellphone without obtaining a warrant even after an arrest.

However, proponents argue that the theory of implied consent may apply. When drivers receive a license, they consent to a Breathalyzer or face possible license suspension. The bill's sponsor also said that police would not gain access to the contents of emails or texts.

As New York becomes the first state to seek to impose this new technology, Connecticut drivers and passengers continue to face the peril of this mounting safety threat. Victims of a distracted driver should seek legal representation to seek damages suffered in a car accident.

Source: The New York Times, "Texting and driving? Watch out for the Textalyzer," By Matt Richtel, April 27, 2016

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