The number of accidents caused by distracted drivers using cell phones is frighteningly high. Whether a driver is making a call or texting a friend, cell phones are dangerous tools of distraction in the car. Recent studies show that cell phone use makes drivers 4x more likely to get into an accident.
A new bill in the New York Senate aims to bring awareness to these dangers, and intends to change the way distracted drivers are caught and charged.
The “Textalyzer bill” would use a methodology similar to the Breathalyzer drunk driving test to check if cell phone use contributed to an accident. The bill would allow police officers to test phones after accidents and check for recent activity.
The bill would also bring the idea of “implied consent” to cell phone use while driving. Drivers who refuse to comply with the phone scans would lose their driver's licenses just as a drunk driver would lose her license.
The National Safety Council (NSC) estimates that 20% of all car accidents in the United States, or one million crashes a year, are the result of a driver distractedly talking on a cell phone. 6% of crashes a year, or over 340,000 accidents, involve a driver using text messaging.
New York, home of the Textalyzer bill, already has some of the strictest driving phone-related driving laws in the country. Cell phone activities that are prohibited while driving include:
- Talking on a handheld cell phone
- Composing, reading, or in any way accessing text messages while driving
- Viewing or taking pictures
- Playing games
Drivers in New York are allowed to use hands-free devices to talk on the phone, use GPS devices that are attached to the vehicle (affixed to the front window or dashboard), and use cell phones to call emergency responders.
Texting while driving is also illegal in Tennessee. Tennessee drivers with learner's permits or intermediate licenses are completely barred from cell phone use in the car.
Supporters of the Textalyzer bill in New York hope that it will do more than identify drivers who used cell phones in the car. Supporters hope that a Textalyzer tool, like the Breathalyzer, will bring awareness to the dangers that cell phones pose to drivers. A tool like this could also create more accurate statistics about the number of crashes involving cell phone use.
But there is no guarantee the bill is going to pass; it faces stiff opposition over privacy concerns. Many believe that the bill gives too much power to police to access personal information.
The stiffest opposition comes from the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2014 unanimous decision by the Supreme Court made it illegal for police to search cell phones without a warrant. Before the Textalyzer bill could be put into practice, the bill's required phone searches would have to be rectified with the Supreme Court ruling or the state risks unconstitutional activity from police.
Proponents of the bill argue that police would not have access to actual texts, emails, or pictures. Police would only be able to identify that recent activity occurred. But police already have the ability to access cell phone records by subpoenaing cell phone companies.
The bill also faces controversy over its potential to blame the wrong person in an accident. Police would not be able to determine if a passenger had access to a driver's phone at the time of the crash.
Cellebrite, the company that recently helped the government unlock an iPhone under investigation, is currently developing the software for Textalyzer. The company says it is waiting for the bill to pass in order to better understand the tools a Textalyzer would need.
The bill is still “in committee” in the New York Senate.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to the negligence of another, call The Law Offices of Luvell L. Glanton. We understand the difficulties faced by clients who have suffered an injury. You can contact us at 615-244-4511 or online.