The New York Daily News says it is not yet a reality, but several tech companies are working on technology that would allow police on the side of the road to scan a suspected distracted driver’s phone to determine if the phone was being used just before a car wreck.
Some New York legislators don’t want to wait for such devices to become available. A bill is in committee that would allow police to use a “textalyzer” on a phone they suspect of causing a distracted driving crash. The bill would also make it a crime to refuse to hand over your phone for testing, on penalty of having your driver’s license suspended.
A group called Distracted Operators Rick Casualties supports the bill. The Daily News quotes a statement from the group that compares textalyzer technology to breath test devices, pointing out that the latter devices have helped catch more drunk drivers.
Of course, whenever we are talking about police monitoring of the public’s phones, privacy concerns arise. The New York State bill contains a provision that reads in part, “No such electronic scan shall include the content or origin of any communication… image or electronic data viewed on a mobile telephone…”
The bill is currently in committee, and whether it will pass remains to be seen. Even more importantly, textalyzers are not yet available, though one company has reportedly created a device that can scrape a phone’s contents. That device would have to be scaled back to balance the need to find evidence of distracted driving with suspects’ privacy rights.
Distracted driving is a national safety menace, and educational efforts and criminalization have had limited impacts so far. New technology may be necessary to punish those who negligently chose to text and drive and hurt someone else as a result.