Do you text and drive? Despite the fact that most people know it’s dangerous, 75 percent of drivers who own a cellphone and regularly text say they’ve texted while driving. If you’re one of those who text and drive, you should watch out. Police officers around the country may soon have a new tool to tell if you’ve been texting and driving.
More than 100,000 car crashes in Texas each year involve distracted driving, and 78 percent of distracted driving crashes involve texting. . Whether it’s reading a text at a red light or sending a text while on the road, studies show that texting and driving is actually worse than driving drunk or under the influence of drugs. In fact, lawmakers in New York are proposing something called a “textalyzer,” which would allow police officers to scan a driver’s phone to see if it was being used at the time of a crash. Just like a breathalyzer test measures a driver’s blood alcohol level, the technology would allow police to see if distracted driving was at play during an accident.
Currently, if police want to see if cell-phone use was involved in a crash, they have to subpoena a driver’s cell phone records. That involves getting a warrant, which can be a time-consuming and difficult process. By contrast, the “textalyzer” would allow them to scan a phone instantly. The technology wouldn’t allow law enforcement to see the content of messages, just data on when and how the phone had been used.
Still, privacy advocates see a potential conflict in using a device like a textalyzer.
“Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender,” Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union told NPR. “This is a concern because our phones have some of our most personal and private information — so we’re certain that if this law is enforced as it is proposed, it will not only violate people’s privacy rights, but also civil liberties.”
New York lawmakers hope to move the “textalyzer” forward by operating under implied consent, meaning that by getting a license, a driver agrees to have their phone searched for signs of use if they are in an accident.
Texas is one of only a few states that does not have a statewide law against texting while driving, although one may be coming soon. Over 90 Texas cities have passed ordinances against using a cellphone while driving, and getting caught could cost you anywhere between $200 and $500.Both the Texas House and Senate have passed similar bills banning texting and driving statewide, and legislators are calling on the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to bring it to a vote. The Bill, HB 62, would fine a driver $99 for the first offense of texting and driving. It allows local jurisdictions to add on additional charges or create their own local ordinances, like Austin’s hands-free initiative, where driving with a cell phone in hand can mean a $500 fine.
If the “textalyzer” becomes law in New York, other states could soon follow with their own similar legislation. The technology around the idea is still in development.