A new bill currently being bandied about in the New York State legislature would allow police officers to use an electronic device to track whether drivers involved in accidents were using portable electronic devices while operating their vehicles.
The bill, S2306, is being sponsored in the Senate by Senator Terrence Murphy, who represents portions of the Hudson Valley, and in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer of Yonkers.
It was the 2011 death of 19 year old Evan Lieberman that prompted the development of the textalyzer, reported NPR (http://n.pr/2ppj7r2). Lieberman was wearing his seatbelt when he was a passenger in the backseat of a vehicle that crossed the center line of an Orange County roadway, striking another vehicle head on. He suffered major internal injuries and died one month later.
While the 19 year old driver of the vehicle told police he had fallen asleep while driving, Evan’s father Ben Lieberman suspected that perhaps something else had happened. It took months before Ben Lieberman was able to get a subpoena for the driver’s phone, which proved that the driving had been texting just before the fatal crash.
Determined to make sure that his son’s death had not been in vain, Lieberman worked with a technology company to create the textalyzer, a device that allows police officers to see recent activity on the phone, complete with a time stamp.
More than just phone calls and text messages, the textalyzer can also indicate which apps were open and in use, as well as showing any taps or swipes to a smart phone screen. The textalyzer could also prove if a cell phone was being used in hands free mode, which is legal in New York.
Engineer Lee Papathansiou who is working on the development of the device being produced by a company called Cellebrite demonstrated the textalyzer to Albany lawmakers last week. Papathansiou said that the device could be modified to comply with laws that may differ from state to state.
Various groups have opposed the textalyzer, saying that although it does not download any data from the user’s phone, it still infringes on both privacy rights and civil liberties.
“Distracted driving is a serious concern but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender bender,” noted Rashida Richardson, an attorney for the New York Civil Liberties Union.
But Debbie Hersman, head of the National Safety Council said the textalyzer had the potential to b a game changer.
“It will be the Breathalyzer of our electronics,” proclaimed Hersman.
Murphy told News 12 (http://bit.ly/2pz6FDC) that with a 61 percent in auto accidents over the past year, the bill is necessary to protect the public from distracted drivers.
“We did a really good job of making drinking and driving a national effort; this needs to be a national effort,” said Murphy.
Elected officials in New Jersey, Tennessee, Chicago and several other cities have also reportedly expressed interest in the textalyzer.