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TECH: Textalyzer Could Bust You for Distracted Driving

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Drunk driving has long been acknowledged as a serious problem. Law enforcement fights drunk driving in part with the breathalyzer, which analyzes whether or not you’ve been drinking.

Distracted driving is a more recent phenomenon and it can be equally as dangerous. New York lawmakers may soon be giving their law enforcement personnel a new way to identify offenders with the textalyzer.

The concept is the same as the breathalyzer, but instead of checking your breath to determine your blood alcohol level, the textalyzer checks your phone for recent activity.

The technology is from a company called Cellebrite. According to Autoblog, they’re the ones rumored to have helped federal authorities break the iPhone used in the San Bernardino shooting incident.

If the legislation passes, then it would require any driver involved in a crash to submit their phone for testing. The textalyzer won’t tell the police what you were doing or download any kind of information, it will simply tell them if the phone was in use at the time of the crash.

The idea of the police scanning phones to collect usage information likely sets off a whole bunch of privacy alarm bells. But: take a deep breath and relax.

The current version of the technology and the bill that could approve it don’t let the police poke around and see any of the information on your phone. All it will do is let them determine if you were using it or not when the accident happened.

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Authorities would still need a warrant to see the information on your phone, so your private life is still private. It does make you wonder how long it will be until the technology is able to tell exactly what you were doing, which will walk a very fine line around the Fourth Amendment.

There’s also the issue of whether or not you were using your phone in a distracted or illegal manner. Most people have their phones synced to their cars. There’s a good chance a phone could be used to stream music or have a hands-free conversation that is completely legal at the time of an accident.

The textalyzer might not know the difference. It could make an innocent driver look guilty of distracted driving until a warrant to search their phone proves otherwise.

You might think you’re safe if you refuse to have your phone scanned, but that could backfire, especially if you weren’t using it illegally. Refusing the textalyzer will work like refusing the breathalyzer and result in having your license immediately suspended.

The idea of a device that is able to scan a phone to determine if someone was driving distracted is a good one, but this version of the technology seems incomplete.

You’re assumed guilty if you refuse, but if you were using your phone legally with it connected to your car, you’ll look just as guilty.

Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin