By on September 22, 2014

Fairfax County Virginia Police + Radar Gun

From the commonwealth where radar detectors are verboten, and speeding has more in common with sex crimes than physical graffiti, a local company has developed a device that can detect the sort of signals a phone might emit when its owner is texting.

The Virginian-Pilot reports ComSonics of Harrisonburg, Va. has tweaked technology used by cable repairmen to find damaged wiring to detect transmission data from a phone sending a text. The device, as explained by calibration services manager Malcolm McIntyre, can differentiate between texting, phone calls and data transmissions by frequency.

Though the text-detecting device is “close to production,” according to McIntyre, privacy concerns, legislative red tape, and adoption by law enforcement are likely to slow down progress for now.

Virginia commonwealth law states phone calls by drivers are legal, while texting is illegal. Should the device enter into the fight, however, enforcement of the law may become more muddied, since anyone in a given vehicle could be sending texts; the device likely will not be able to nail down the exact position of the transmission.

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56 Comments on “Virginia Company Unveils Text-Detection Device...”


  • avatar
    thelaine

    B.I.T.E M.E.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    This sounds interesting .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    dastanley

    What about when receiving texts? When I’m driving and Verizon sends me a text notifying me that I’ve used 90% of my plan, and I get pulled over for “texting”, who pays? We all know the answer to that.

  • avatar
    Kaosaur

    This is dumb because:

    a) passengers could be texting,
    b) a text could not always be sent right away and phones will attempt to resend,
    c) how does it differentiate between sent and received texts,
    d) texts sent via apps are no different than normal internet traffic on a phone (snapchat, etc).

    It’s just a bull***t excuse to collect more tax on the road.

    When New York City first instituted the texting ban, I was the passenger texting in a car and a cop pulled over and ticketed my friend who was driving. It was in August and the law still wouldn’t take effect for three more weeks but he wrote the ticket anyway. I even (stupidly; — never talk to cops) showed the cop my phone and that I had just sent a text to which he replied: “stop lying, I know what I saw”. We fought the ticket and won, obviously, but had our time wasted.

    I wonder if kids still play Cops & Robbers these days. It must be hard to distinguish the two anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Per the article, the device can tell between phone calls, data, and texts. The texting programs fall under data, and would not be a cause for a pull over.

      So when they start using this, everyone can switch over to a texting app using data. Result.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    As a Virginian (I work in Fairfax County) this is relevant to my interests. Though, I honestly don’t text and drive or talk and drive. I can’t say it NEVER happens, but if it happens twice in a month it’s a heavy month.

    The way I see this playing out is using the technology and having the officer involved actually see the driver using the device. That way, if the driver denies using their device to text, the police can confirm that’s what was happening without getting a search warrant to look at the phone. I don’t know if that is possible to distinguish, but without it being illegal to talk on the phone I wouldn’t see how this technology will actually be useful by itself.

    Maybe they’ll put up signs that blink at you when you are using your phone like the signs that shame you into slowing down by telling everyone how fast you’re going.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    ” like the signs that shame you into slowing down by telling everyone how fast you’re going.”

    You’re kidding , right ? .

    I never slow down for those , in fact I often speed up to check speedo accuracy .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I’ve looked upon them as a challenge before.

    • 0 avatar
      Land Ark

      Well, obviously I also check my speedo accuracy (it’s not) and typically say “Thanks for the update, sign.” I said “shame you,” not shame ME.
      Unless I’m in my work car. Then the rules are a little different.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      I got a speeding ticket in New York by one of these signs. Sometimes they’re equiped with the same camera systems in use by red light cameras.

      Be careful what official detection devices you choose to “challenge”.

      • 0 avatar
        zamoti

        All the more reason to 86 the old front plate. I’m sure most real camera systems shoot the back, but any excuse I can to leave the front plate in the trunk I shall take.
        Front plates are crap yo.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Amen! Never have used mine. It’s in the garage.

          That’s a lie, I used it when I had my new car and the GS was for sale. Just ran the GS plate on both for a little while.

  • avatar
    cartunez

    Oh yeah more reasons for the surveillance state to stop and harass. Never mind that in some cars you can send and receive text hands free.

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    As I understand it, this box of tricks can pick up the outgoing signal when a text is sent. Nothing about what happens while typing up those important mesages.

  • avatar
    zbnutcase

    Hey! Look! Its a PIG!

  • avatar
    tedward

    Scary. Virginia is already a predator state in regards to out of state motorists. This would not be a bad thing if done right, but I’m going to guess that challenging the accuracy of the machine won’t be an option outside of a very expensive and much appealed court battle.

    Also, I hope everyone has been paying attention to how cell phone tickets have been handled lately. There is no workable defense for the innocent as cell phone records aren’t being admitted as relevant evidence (!!!), and all it takes it the officer saying that he saw you use it to end up with mega points on your license. Cell phones probably shouldn’t be used in motion, but the political hysteria and attendant opportunism on this issue are creating some really really bad law enforcement outcomes.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      The opposite also works. Here in NC it is legal to use your phone to use google maps, etc. So there was an article in the paper not too long ago about how texting while driving convictions are impossible to get, everyone has learned to just say they were using google maps. Sure the cops could get a warrant for the phone to prove otherwise, but no DA is going to go to that kind of trouble for this, and the cases get dismissed, if any such tickets are even still being written.

    • 0 avatar
      kvndoom

      “Scary. Virginia is already a predator state in regards to out of state motorists.”

      Naw we are WAY worse on eating our own kind here. Out-of-staters have the advantage of using detectors. Not supposed to, but it happens all the time anyway.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Donning my flame retardant suit. I welcome this technology and hope ALL the LEOs in NOVA get these. Traffic flow is bad enough; it’s worse behind the texter who’s constantly slowing down and speeding back up. Their “tell”: head down, texting away, slowing down; head pops back up, sits phone down, speeds up.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      I refer to those people as yo-yo’s. Because I usually have my cruise control set on the highway, and they’re constantly speeding past me or falling behind. I do not move over for yo-yo’s once they’re ready to pay attention to driving. I don’t care if it’s the left lane, either, because I know you’re going to slow down in a minute.

      • 0 avatar
        kvndoom

        I play a game when I’m driving on 64 between Newport News and Richmond. I see if I can go 5 minutes, just FIVE LOUSY MINUTES without disengaging my cruise control. I have even set it below the speed limit and have failed every single time, no matter what time of day it is.

  • avatar
    scm53

    My X3’s hands free allows me to send texts without ever touching my phone. What will they do with people like me?

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      scm53,
      According to TTAC bylaws, you will be tarred-and-feathered for being a poseur who drives a non-station wagon BMW and burned at the stake for impersonating a soccer mom in a CUV.

      We’ll let you off the hook for the hands free texting.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Sometimes I’m reminded that living in Maryland isn’t so bad.

  • avatar
    darex

    It’s usually fairly obviously when someone is texting. The phone is visible above the window-line, their reactions are slow, and their driving is erratic. Not rocket science, nor is rocket science needed to detect these people.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    (Also donning my flame suit…)

    Why do some people get so damned bent out of shape when new technology comes about that actually helps LEO’s catch people doing things that they- now, this is important, some should probably read this next part really carefully- *** shouldn’t be doing in the first place *** either for the safety factor or illegal implications?

    It strikes me with awe every time I see a commenter post something along the lines of “Just another way for pigs to collect money…” or something to that effect. So by that mentality, it’s the fault of the Police that you choose to break laws? Nah, you just don’t like getting caught. I get it. There’s a solution though. Stop breaking the law!

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      I believe they should patrol the roads, serve and protect.

      • 0 avatar
        CoastieLenn

        So does that leave “enforce” off the table?

        In the light of this text sensing machine, this very easily falls under the “protect” category as they’re protecting other motorists from the texter not paying attention.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          When you have enforcement power, how you apply it is important. If you are patrolling the roads with the intention of serving and protecting people, enforcement is a tool. If you are using the power of enforcement to serve another end, then you are both abusing it and neglecting your primary function.

    • 0 avatar
      Master Baiter

      Why didn’t that black lady just sit in the back of the bus where the law demanded she sit?! We should all obey every stupid law like nice little sheep…

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        She Followed the Drinking Gourd right to the back of that bus!

      • 0 avatar
        CoastieLenn

        @ Master Baiter:

        We’re not talking about civil rights here. We are talking about speeding and texting specifically. There is absolutely no correlation you can support between antique laws involving segregation and current motorist safety laws. I value the protection speed laws and technology use laws afford me while I’m driving down the highway (normally) following those rules.

        While I admire your enthusiasm for “fighting the man”, your use of Rosa Parks as a reference is a few decades late.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          +1 CoastieLenn

        • 0 avatar
          Master Baiter

          Why not just hire a cop to ride around with every motorist continuously? We’d be much safer then.

          Why does every good practice have to be backed up with a law–a law that will likely be abused by government and turned into another tax collection racket–like unrealistically low speed limits? Why not a law demanding that you drive with both hands on the wheel at all times? Speaking with passengers can create a distraction. How about a law saying you can’t speak to passengers?

          Do you ever exceed the posted speed limit? If you do, you’re a hypocrite. I’m glad you have the flame suit on.

          • 0 avatar
            CoastieLenn

            I do occasionally exceed the speed limit (although when averaging 14.1mpg, I try to keep as low as possible) as I mentioned by saying “(normally” in my post above- but when/if I get pulled over for speeding, I’m certainly not going to blame the Police officer nor will I preach anything that shifts the blame from me. I have a strong sense of accountability.

            There’s pretty much nothing you can say from here on in that will aleviate you from owning your responsibility if you break a law. Have you ever heard that expression “Every law is written in blood.”? Probably not. There’s a reason something as trivial as texting and driving has to be regulated. Hell, China just put in special walkways for people to use when they can’t be bothered to look away from their phones long enough to walk down the street. If it goes unregulated, eventually we will become the same way.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      If I’m going to be treated like a child, why should I still pay taxes? How do they know I can’t keep the text simple without taking my eyes off the radio, Nav, gauges, billboards, Hot chick in the Civic, sexy girl with the ponytail jogging, etc.?

      • 0 avatar
        CoastieLenn

        I understand but obviously the law was not intended for those amoung us that keep things simple and short… when absolutely necessary. Its the people that would rather check/update BookFace statuses and post selfies whilest driving that is the target for this law, certainly.

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      …Stop breaking the law!….

      Sigh. If the law was based on facts and really was meant to protect public safety most would abide willingly. But when the law is set to fleece motorists and have no basis in fact, say 55 MPH on the interstate, you get widespread disregard for the law and the people that enforce them. Pretty simple.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Does it also detect if you pick your nose/mouth or scratch your privates?

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    My first thought is what about a false positive on navigation applications? Also I see a vast potential for abuse here, just a “drug sniffing” dog can be trained to alert on a signal form the handler, this could easily be made to alert on any data signal providing a new pretext for civil forfeiture theft.

  • avatar
    t0ast

    I’m not intimately familiar with cell phone tech, but I do know that texting uses the same communication channel (and presumably frequencies) as the one used for initially setting up a link between phones for calls along with regular phone-tower pinging (which accommodates moving between towers when you’re doing things like driving…).

    I don’t doubt that they’ll be able to differentiate other cell phone usage (active calls and data) but without knowing more, I’m somewhat skeptical about the device’s ability to avoid false positives and/or their claims regarding privacy. And that’s without even considering other scenarios like hands-free texting, passengers texting, texting via a data-channel-using app, texting signals coming from a different vehicle, etc.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Hee hee… I barely have a flip phone… somewhere.

    I don’t care.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    While we all have heard anecdotal stories about some poor innocent killed by a careless texting driver, the overall traffic statistics do not show any evidence that mobile phone use has caused increased traffic accidents or fatalities. Given that driving while using the phone is supposed to be as dangerous as drunk driving, and that virtually everyone has a phone and at least occasionally uses it in the car, we should see death rates and accident rates going through the roof – but instead they have continued their long-time steady decline. This is just another excuse to turn police into an arm of tax collection agencies.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      The decline of traffic fatalities as a result of phone usage could certainly be attributed to the 12 states that currently outlawed the use of handheld devices while driving.

      http://www.distraction.gov/content/get-the-facts/state-laws.html

    • 0 avatar
      Master Baiter

      Stop using logic and reason stingray.

      Laws are now determined by how they make our idiot populous feel.

    • 0 avatar
      Dan

      “Given that driving while using the phone is supposed to be as dangerous as drunk driving,”

      The asterisk there is that the “drunk driving” which they’re comparing cell phone use to is the prohibitionist’s definition 0.08 BAC which isn’t meaningfully likely to result in a crash either.

      Speed, phones, drinking, in all but the most egregious cases it’s just revenuers being revenuers. The safety angle is pure PR.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    @ CoastieLenn :

    You’re trying to reason with / explain things to emotional children who are liars to boot .

    The carnage caused is clear , there are no honest stats showing otherwise , the irresponsible children do not want to follow Societal Rules nor accept any responsibility for their childish actions .

    Agreed , Cops often mis use their authority but since we all get away with minor infractions daily , why while like babies when we get the pinch eventually ? .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      You, sir- might be on to something. :cheers:

      • 0 avatar
        -Nate

        Of _course_ I am ;

        I’m an Elderly Conservative who pays attention to the facts and History , not what the few who want to steal from us all try to feed us…..

        FWIW , I was once an ignorant will full child too but therein lies the difference between ignorant and stupid :

        Ignorance , you can still learn and change .

        Stupid cannot be fixed .

        -Nate

  • avatar
    dtremit

    The technical explanation of this thing strikes me as complete BS.

    Text messages *exist* because they fill up unused space in the frequency bands the tower and the phone use to communicate status information. (Ever notice those weird noises your speakers make when your phone is sitting next to them, even though you’re not on a call?)

    And distinguishing between voice and data is about to become impossible; Verizon just became the first carrier to start carrying voice conversations over data frequencies (VoLTE).

    Moreover, how would you ever distinguish between driver and passenger devices, or between driver-initiated and background data transmissions?

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      Yes, this is total BS orginating from a PR puff piece about local company in a Virginia paper. It’s been amusing watching this make the click-bait rounds, I’m actually kind of disappointed that TTAC fell for it.

      This will never see the light of day. There is no business case to spend $millions developing a device that will be obsolete the day it ships. As others have pointed out iMessage, WhatsApp, etc would not be detectable as texts by this device. And the article vaguely refers to “legislative red tape” being a problem but gives no further information. “legislative red tape” means it’s an illegal device.

  • avatar

    speeding has more in common with sex crimes than physical graffiti (???)

  • avatar
    jacob_coulter

    I’m not going to defend texting when driving, but to me these seems to be all about new revenue streams.

    It will also be one of those automatic “I get too pull anyone over I want” devices that the cop will swear up and down told him the driver was texting, thus he needed to search the driver, the phone, and the rest of the car to make sure there wasn’t another phone that was being hidden, etc.

    I’d rather be driving on the roads with people that text rather than cops using electronic surveillance on people’s phones.

    • 0 avatar
      CoastieLenn

      The probable cause/consent for search laws will still apply just as they do for the smell of drugs. Plus, a phone being hidden? Really?! An officer isn’t going to be searching someone’s ass for a hidden phone for texting while driving.

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