So-Called Textalyzer Could Track Cause of Crashes

A device could prove drivers were texting and driving before a crash.

Timothy Healey
    May 28, 2017 12:00 PM  PT
So-Called Textalyzer Could Track Cause of Crashes
author: Timothy Healey    

It might soon be easier, at least in New York State, to find out if someone was texting while driving before causing an accident.

A grieving father is pushing for legislation that would allow police there to be able to use a device that will tell them right after an accident if the driver was using his or her phone instead of focusing on the road. The device has been dubbed a Breathalyzer for texting, or Textalyzer.

Proof of Phone Use

"You think people are already looking at phones and it just doesn't happen," Ben Lieberman said, according to Top Tech News. Lieberman lost his son to an accident in which a driver was texting while driving and he is partnering with Israel-based tech company Cellebrite to develop the plug-in device that could be used to shine a light on the driver's actions in the moments before a crash.

Privacy Concerns

There are concerns about the use of the device. Some center on privacy, while others center on consent – police need a warrant and consent before accessing someone's records. Others worry that police might access personal info that's irrelevant to the accident from devices.

"Every fender bender would become a pretense for gobbling up people's private cellphone information, and we know that cellphones typically contain our entire lives," New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman told Top Tech News. She's not related to Ben Lieberman.

Safety Advocates Say Current Rules Not Enough

Forty-six states have banned texting while driving, but that's not enough for some.

"There can't be a more compelling reason than life or death for saying why we should have access to this information," Deborah Hersman, the CEO of the National Safety Council, said to Top Tech News.

Cellebrite says its technology will be ready for use in about nine months, and it won't be a problem in terms of privacy, as it only determines usage – it doesn't access data. The company's tech can only can tell police if the phone was swiped or clicked at the time of the accident. From there, investigators would need to decide if they should get a warrant to obtain further information.

Execs Say Privacy is Not an Issue

A company executive said that police would have to rewrite the code in order to access someone's personal info.

The bill wouldn't criminalize a refusal to comply, but any driver involved in an accident who refused to comply would risk license suspension.

Tennessee and New Jersey are also considering similar legislation, as is the city of Chicago. In New York, the bill is expected to be supported and approved by the state Senate, which is led by Republicans, but to also face opposition in the Assembly, which is dominated by Democrats.

Lieberman hopes the device will work as both a deterrent and a tool to help track how serious of a problem texting and driving actually is – or at least how many accidents it causes.

"The last thing I want to do is be responsible for legislation that is going to infringe on someone's privacy," he said. "But I also don't want to bury another child."