Category Archives: Reckless Endangerment

The “Textalyzer” Battles Distracted Driving & Works Like A Breathalyzer


A police officer uses a prototype of a Textalyzer to check for texting activity on a phone. A proposed law in New York would allow police to use the technology in much the same way they use a Breathalyzer.

A very interesting and well-written news article by reporter Matt Richtel of the New York Times discussed how lawmakers from New York want to treat distracted driving like drunken driving. The newest idea is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

The idea certainly carries momentum. Richtel wrote that over the last seven years, most states have banned texting by drivers, and public service campaigns have tried many tactics — “It can wait,” among them — to persuade people to ignore their phones when driving their cars.

Nevertheless, the problem appears to be getting worse. Americans confess in surveys that they are still texting while driving, as well as using Facebook and Snapchat and taking selfies. Richtel’s article emphasized that road fatalities, which had fallen for years, are now rising sharply, up roughly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, according to preliminary estimates. That is partly because people are driving more, but Mark Rosekind, the chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said distracted driving was “only increasing, unfortunately.”

In response, legislators and public health experts want to treat distracted driving like drunken driving. The most provocative idea is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer — a roadside test called the Textalyzer.

Richtel explained it would work like this: an officer arriving at the scene of a crash could ask for the phones of any drivers involved and use the Textalyzer to tap into the operating system to check for recent activity.

The technology could determine whether a driver had used the phone to text, email or do anything else that is forbidden under New York’s hands-free driving laws, which prohibit drivers from holding phones to their ear. Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer.

Richtel described how the proposed legislation faces hurdles to becoming a law, including privacy concerns. But Félix W. Ortiz, a Democratic assemblyman who was a sponsor of the bipartisan Textalyzer bill, said it would not give the police access to the contents of any emails or texts. It would simply give them a way to catch multitasking drivers, he said.

If the legislation passed in New York, it could be adopted by other states in the same way that the hands-free rules did after New York adopted them.


State v. Rich: Evidence of DUI Also Shows Reckless Driving

In State v. Rich, the WA Supreme Court ruled that although proof of DUI alone does not necessarily establish proof of Reckless Endangerment, here, proof that a driver whose breath alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit and who showed awareness that she had done something wrong once stopped, and who sped past a police car in traffic with a young child in the front seat, was sufficient to allow a reasonable juror to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver created a substantial risk of death or injury to her passenger; which meets the definition of Reckless Endangerment.

A jury convicted defendant Andrea Rich of driving under the influence (DUI) and Reckless Endangerment. The evidence showed that Rich was speeding in traffic while highly intoxicated and with a young child in the front passenger seat. But the officer who arrested Rich followed her car because he believed that the car was stolen. Rich’s manner of driving posed no observable danger.

The WA Court of Appeals reversed the Reckless Endangerment conviction, holding that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Rich’s driving created an actual, substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person. It reasoned that proof of a DUI does not necessarily establish proof of Reckless Endangerment.

In response, the State Prosecutor appealed to the WA Supreme Court on the issue of whether there was sufficient to support Rich’s Reckless Endangerment conviction.

The WA Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that proof of DUI alone does not necessarily establish proof of Reckless Endangerment. The WA Supreme Court also reasoned, however, that the State proved more than just DUI in this case:

It also proved speeding, past a police car, in traffic, by a driver whose breath alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit, who showed awareness that she had done something wrong once stopped, and who had a young child in the front passenger seat. Construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, a reasonable juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Rich created a substantial risk of death or injury to her passenger, that Rich knew of the substantial risk, and that Rich disregarded that risk in gross deviation from the way a reasonable person would act in her situation.

With that, the WA Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the Reckless Endangerment conviction.

Distracted Driving Crashes Worse Than Previously Suspected

Other reports found that Smartphone technology increased the use of cellphones by drivers beyond basic calls and texts -- including Social Media and GPS applications.

Car crashes are the leading cause of death for American teenagers, but a new study suggests a far bigger problem.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which released a 2012 study using statistics based on police reports, previously estimated that teen distracted driving constituted 14 percent of all collisions. That study showed that teen drivers were distracted almost a quarter of the time they were behind the wheel.  Electronic devices, such as texting, emails, and downloading music, were among the biggest distractions, accounting for 7% of the distractions identified on the study video.

However, a study released in March by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety which used live footage instead of police reports. Their latest study on distracted driving found a 400 percent increase and concluded that distraction was a factor in nearly 6 out of 10 moderate-to-severe teen crashes. AAA analyzed the six seconds leading up to a crash in nearly 1,700 videos of teen drivers taken from in-vehicle cameras they knew were in their cars.

Teen Driver Distraction Crashes Infographic

My opinion? Eventually, “Distracted Driving” will be criminalized. It took decades for statistics on fatal drunken driving crashes to translate into tougher DWI laws. I’m sure that advocates for strict laws against cellphone use by drivers encounter the same detached attitude today.

State v. Rich: No Reckless Endangerment Found in DUI Case

In State v. Rich, the WA Court of Appeals ruled there is no ‘per se’ liability for Reckless Endangerment based on proof of Driving While Under the Influence (DUI).

Here the defendant was pulled over for driving a stolen vehicle. She was arrested for DUI because she exhibited the effects of having consumed alcohol and her BAC test was over .15. She also had a 9-year-old child in the front seat. The Prosecutor charged the defendant with Possession of a Stolen Vehicle, DUI and Reckless Endangerment.

During trial, the Prosecutor argued that because Rich operated a vehicle while legally intoxicated in violation of the DUI statute, her conduct also satisfies the elements of reckless endangerment. The State also points to the following pieces of “additional evidence” that would support a finding that Rich’s conduct created a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury: (1) Rich endangered a passenger and motorists on a “major public roadway,” (2) she was heavily intoxicated, and (3) she exceeded the speed limit. The jury found Rich guilty of both Reckless Endangerment and DUI.

The case went up on appeal on the issue of whether a jury can find rich guilty on both crimes when the overwhelming evidence suggested she was only guilty of DUI.

Some background is necessary. The Reckless Endangerment statute, RCW 9A.36.050, provides as follows:

A person is guilty of reckless endangerment when he or she recklessly engages in conduct not amounting to drive-by shooting but that creates a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury to another person.

Another provision in the criminal code, RCW 9A.08.010, defines levels of culpability, including recklessness. RCW 9A.08.010 provides, in relevant part:

RECKLESSNESS. A person is reckless or acts recklessly when he or she knows of and disregards a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her disregard of such substantial risk is a gross deviation from conduct that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.

Here, the Court reasoned that the Prosecutor offered no evidence whatsoever about the presence of other vehicles, motorists, or pedestrians, nor any evidence about the type of road or traffic conditions. Additionally, the police officer who observed Rich drive did not indicate that Rich’s manner of driving posed any danger or caused him to suspect that Rich was impaired. And even if the jury could infer from an officer’s testimony that Rich was speeding 15 miles per hour faster than the speed limit, the deputy followed Rich because he believed the car was stolen, not because of speeding or for any reason related to the manner in which the car was being operated. This evidence would not, therefore, allow a trier of fact to conclude that Rich’s speed created a substantial risk of death or serious physical injury.

Because the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rich recklessly engaged in conduct that created a substantial risk of death or serious injury to another person, the Reckless Endangerment conviction must be vacated.

My opinion? Good decision. there is no “per se” liability for Reckless Endangerment based on proof of violation of the DUI statute. If the penalties for DUI are thought of as too lenient then the legislature can increase them. If there should be additional offenses tied to DUI, say DUI with a passenger, then they likewise can be implemented by the legislature through the democratic process. However, courts should remain unwilling to impose such value judgments upon the citizens by shoehorning conduct into the somewhat broad definitions of certain criminal offenses.