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.