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New technology may fight distracted driving

Police in New York may be the first to use new technology to fight danger posed by other relatively new technology. Under a pending bill in that state, the police could use a Textalyzer, which allows testing a cellphone to determine whether the driver used it immediately before a car crash. Someday, it may be used in personal injury cases.

The National Traffic Safety Administration reported that 442 people were killed in 69,000 accidents involving a cellphone in this country in 2015. New York, like Nevada, bans texting and driving.

However, the Council of State Governments has expressed doubt over the effectiveness of enforcing these laws with existing technology. Motorists can claim that they performed other tasks on their phone instead of texting. Subpoenas of cellphone records are often required, but judges usually do not grant these requests if there was no car accident.

The New York proposal is known as Evan's Law in memory of 19-year-old Evan Lieberman who was killed while riding as a passenger in a car. The driver first told police that he fell asleep. However, the victim's father filed a civil lawsuit and subpoenaed telephone records which revealed that the driver was texting and driving at the time of the fatal accident.

He asked the mobile-software firm Cellebrite to develop the Textalyzer app, which would allow police to quickly scan for a driver's cellphone use. In a recent demonstration, a smartphone was plugged into a Textalyzer device. A minute-long scan showed a breakdown of recent communications, their source, a timestamp, and whether the calls were incoming or outgoing.

The firm said that the device does not disclose the contents or recipients of the phone owner's calls or messages. The driver can also hold onto the phone when it is plugged into the Textalyzer.

Under the bill, implied consent would govern Textalyzer use. This doctrine is currently used with drunk driver breathalyzer testing where the driver gives consent for these tests when they receive their license.

Civil liberty advocates oppose the New York bill and questioned the fairness and effectiveness of the device. They cited a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision holding that law enforcement must obtain a warrant to search cellphone content.

Victims of injuries caused by a distracted driver should seek legal assistance to help assure that they can pursue their case in court. A lawyer can use experts, new technologies, and other means to obtain the evidence needed to build a strong case.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor, "Do today's cops need a 'Textalyzer' test?" Patrick Reilly, April 28, 2017

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