By on July 27, 2017

Texting and Driving

The state of New York is preparing to study the use of a device known as a “textalyzer” that would allow police to determine whether a motorist involved in a serious crash was texting while driving. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he was encouraging the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee to examine the technology’s usefulness, as well as the privacy and constitutional questions it could raise.

Named to be intentionally reminiscent of the breathalyzer, likely for marketing purposes, the textalyzer is framed by its designers as a device intended to identify whether a driver was interacting with their phone prior to a serious crash. However, there’s technically nothing stopping others from using this technology during a routine traffic stop down the line.

Last year, New York Senator Terrence Murphy and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz partnered with Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORC) to propose a bill that would allow authorities to examine phones at an accident site. The move created a backlash from digital privacy advocates, who believe the device is an invasion of personal liberties. Governor Cuomo has been supportive of the DORC in the past and has made the elimination of distracted driving a personal project. 

“Despite laws to ban cellphone use while driving, some motorists still continue to insist on texting behind the wheel — placing themselves and others at substantial risk,” Cuomo said in a statement first reported by The Associated Press. “This review will examine the effectiveness of using this new emerging technology to crack down on this reckless behavior and thoroughly evaluate its implications to ensure we protect the safety and privacy of New Yorkers.”

New York banned the use of hand-held devices for all drivers in 2009. It’s one of 14 states to have implemented such a ban. However, 47 states and Washington, D.C., have a strict no-texting-while-driving policy.

Privacy and civil liberties groups already have questioned whether the textalyzer would violate personal privacy, specifying that police are traditionally required to obtain search warrants before looking at a person’s phone. The device’s creator, Cellebrite, claims the unit would be able to analyze if a person was using the internet, texting, calling, or browsing apps, but would not have access to specific any specific data when completed. A finished product is months away, however.

“I am extremely nervous about handing a cellphone to a law enforcement officer and allowing them in any way to forensically analyze it,” says Rainey Reitman, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “This is a technology that is incredibly problematic and at the same time is unnecessary. There are already legal avenues for a police officer.”

A committee will hear from supporters and opponents of the technology, law enforcement officials, and legal experts prior to issuing a report on the device’s usefulness, Gov. Cuomo’s office said.

“We were the first state to adopt a motorcycle helmet law, a seat belt law for front-seat passengers and a cell-phone law,” said Terri Egan, executive deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, who is the acting leader of the committee. “We want to make sure we consider all the impacts of the technology carefully to best ensure public safety and effective enforcement of the law.”

Whether or not the technology is deemed effective, texting and driving remains a problem. New York’s Traffic Safety Management and Research estimates 12 fatalities and 2,784 injuries can be attributed to cell-phone related crashes between 2011 and 2015. Officers had also issued 1.2 million tickets for cellphone usage violations within that timeframe.

Senator Murphy is an advocate of the textalyzer. His earlier proposed bill outlined rules for how such a device would be used by police departments — including a stipulation where motorists who refuse to hand over their phones to officers could have their licenses suspended. He believes it’s only a matter of time before New York and other states adopt the technology.

“It’s not if, it’s when,” he claimed. “This will literally save lives.”

 

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66 Comments on “New York Considers Polarizing ‘Textalyzer’ to Combat Distracted Driving...”


  • avatar

    “This will literally save lives.”

    As it is a device which is to be used only after a crash to analyze phone usage, I’m fairly certain it will literally not do that.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    This will never work- I always put my phone down before I crash.

    I’m wondering how exactly this proves that you were using the internet. Putting aside social media apps for a moment, most every smart phone has a constant trickle of background data coming and going- “push” email apps, the local weather, navigation.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      It should be possible to sort cell phone data traffic into categories such that those involving direct user activity could be isolated. It should also be possible for a textalyzer to identify such user activity by meta-data without examining the content of data traffic, and if an independent examination of the textalyzer confirmed that, I wouldn’t object to LEO using such devices. However, it seems likely that the worst offenders would resort to tricks like keeping a secondary phone handy that they would offer for examination if stopped, or claim that their phone was being used by a passenger. As it is, in the event of an accident I would think that the authorities could subpoena phone records to get the same meta-data, but that won’t serve the officer in the field trying to stop bad behavior before it results in an accident.

  • avatar
    deanst

    As much as I hate government being big brother, something has to be done about the texting and driving crowd. Recently, I saw a slow motion crash as a texting driver slowly drove straight into a guard rail. Luckily she only damaged her car, but as a cyclist this scares the sh*t out of me.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      “something has to be done about the texting and driving crowd”

      Scissors. The punishment for texting and driving should be that the courts use a pair of scissors to cut your seatbelt- and you are not allowed to repair it for one year. The problem will solve itself one way or another…

      But yes, in all seriousness…

      Now here’s the other thing, and it’s hard to say exactly what the answer is, but how many of those people would have crashed for some other reason with the same root cause- not having the sense and discipline paying attention to their driving at the most important times (messing with the radio, dropped something on the floor and not smart enough to just leave it down there, etc.)?

  • avatar
    hamish42

    I have to call hypocrisy on some of the whines about texting. My daughter has a brand new car. Smack in the middle of the dash is a screen where all the necessary functions to operate the car are displayed. So, want to change the temperature or something? Take both eyes off the road, check out your little scree, take a hand off the wheel and adjust said screen, and how exactly is that not “distracted driving”. If you’re not watching with both eyes, with both hands on the wheel, you are distracted whether you’re in text mode or screen mode.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      Agreed.

      I’ve been in cars with drivers that spend an alarming amount of time looking at their aftermarket car stereos to change the station or mess with media player functions.

      Hell, in my teens, I took out the mailbox for a church when I looked down to change the radio station and looked up when I hopped the curb and sent it flying.

      People just don’t respect physics enough.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      My pickup is a 2012 model a Mazda (really a global Ranger).

      I just ask it to do things like adjust the Climate Control, change radio stations, songs, even ring up my friends.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      There are degrees of distraction.

      Checking facebook, holding a conversation via text message or whatever can take a significant amount of time.

      Once you grow accustomed to a car’s systems, the distraction time is negligible. Poorly designed systems can take more eye time, though. Many infotainment systems disable certain features in order to reduce the potential for distraction.

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      Thankfully with my Ford Sync, all I have to do is tell the car what I want changed and it does it. My hands never leave the steering wheel and I never have to look at anything.

      But I forgot, we’re supposed to hate Ford Sync.

  • avatar
    Corollaman

    Everyone agrees something needs to be done, but no one wants to be inconvenienced or have their rights violated in any way, so how the hell can you do it? Jail time for anyone causing an accident by texting.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s what this device is intended to do. Proving phone usage is difficult unless there’s an eyewitness. This proves it so they can send you to jail.

      The privacy cost is that in most crashes, you’re gonna have to turn over private property to police for analysis.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        “The privacy cost is that in most crashes, you’re gonna have to turn over private property to police for analysis.”

        Doesn’t this already happen in some instances? On the occasions that a governmental agency inspects the “black box” in a car?

        • 0 avatar

          That’s different, less personal. There’s no porn and Snapchat pics of your baby momma on the black box. You also don’t carry it around with you, and hold it for hours a day.

          Phones are a very personal comfort item, like blankies.

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            I can see the idea of “mission creep” happening in what you’re stating.

            IIRC, the law in Michigan is that a cell phone is fair game to inspect by law enforcement if they can see it in plain sight in your car during a traffic stop.

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah, I think the creep is bound to happen with this sort of thing. Soon, it’s implemented on regular traffic stops, speeding, etc.

            “Hope you like all my memes, officer.”

      • 0 avatar
        ClutchCarGo

        I would think that it would be possible to collect everything necessary from the cell phone carrier via subpoena after an accident. Analysis of time-stamped meta-data should be able to demonstrate whether or not a cell phone was being directly utilized in the moments before an accident without giving over the phone. However, this won’t prove that it was the driver using the phone, but that wouldn’t be possible on the scene of the accident either if there’s a passenger. It’s also true that asking the carrier is not an option when pulling a car over for suspected phone use.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    How about having your Deep State put a change into the phone duopoly to deny texts when the phones travel at a certain speed which could be calculated by GPS?

    Think McFly. Think!

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Great, I’m surprised my state isn’t picking up a few thousand of those devices since it is now illegal to hold your phone at all, eat, drink, smoke, comb your hair, blow you nose ect. Sure all of those but the phone are secondary offenses, for now. So for now it just gives an officer a way to increase his revenue take per stop. However, seat belts, and holding a phone to your face used to be secondary offenses too.

    We will see how long it takes Starbucks to get behind repealing this law. I’d be surprised if we don’t see petitions at their stores before too long as they can pretty much kiss their business good bye if people can’t get an over priced cup of coffee to drink on their way to work.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    I’m normally very judicious about using my horn for anything beyond warning someone driving straight toward me, but I’ve lately taken to absolutely blaring my horn at anyone holding me up at a light so they can finish their texting.

    An inordinate amount of them give me the stink eye like I’ve inconvenienced them or something– but it sure puts a little pep in their step.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I don’t see this passing into law. I believe it’s too draconian. I know this is a real problem, but this seems like a less than practical way to prevent it from happening. And I can imagine a lot of privacy issues with this implementation.

    While I’m not a fan of people texting while driving, what about passengers? How about instances where you’re stopped in traffic? You need to let someone know you’re going to be late for your appointment? Many times me or my passenger is acting as navigator, simultaneously texting the person(s) we’re going to meet and using Google Maps or something similar for directions.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      “Hey, Siri!”

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Don’t be surprised if it does make it into law, just look at the law that just went into effect in the state of Washington. It is no longer legal to eat, drink or smoke as a driver. Yes it is a secondary offense, for now, that they tacked on to the law that makes it illegal to hold your phone, which is a primary offense. Being a secondary offense means that they can’t use seeing you take a sip of coffee to pull you over but that they can then find another reason to pull you over and add that $99 to the bill. Or even if they don’t see you actively drinking your coffee but instead see it in your cup holder with the steam rising. So just tack another $99 on to the speeding or other ticket.

      Personally I can think of many times when I’ve had my wife or kids respond to, or make a text on my behalf while I’m driving. So yes it was my phone that just sent a text but that doesn’t mean I’m not the one who sent it. Also will it determine if I used the feature that will read the incoming text to me and then let me reply by speaking, w/o touching the keyboard?

      • 0 avatar
        usernamealreadyregistered

        “It is no longer legal to eat, drink or smoke as a driver.”

        Prohibiting stimulant consumption by drivers. Nope, no possible unintended consequences here.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          “Grooming” is also now illegal.

          So there is going to be some serious abuse going on with the new law. Yeah I can’t put down that I pulled you over for drinking coffee but I can hit my $/hr target by pulling you over for 65 in a 60 and tacking on $99 for eating/drinking/smoking/grooming.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      Heh. Welcome to NY State.
      It’ll pass, or be ramrodded through.

  • avatar
    mriach77

    Use Real Laws, not municipal codes.

    Faraday Cage!

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I hope this law passes .

    Too many deaths, always by folks who say ” but not me ! ” .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed.

      My wife witnessed a slow-motion texting crash just this week. They never even touched their brakes, causing an accident in heavy Pittsburgh traffic on a bridge.

  • avatar
    mechimike

    Anyone else really bothered by that mole on the side of the young lady’s mouth?

    It’s all I can see now.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Maybe its a generational thing…I just can’t understand why a pretty girl feels the need to do that.

    • 0 avatar

      Individuality and attention are very important to millennials. Generally, their actions and body modifications are intended to garner the most likes/shares/retweets/texts. This is the only way they obtain validation in their otherwise emotionally disconnected lives.

      They were raised with this constant validation by Participation Ribbon parents, who told them they could never do any wrong, and all their ideas were the best ever. So they seek it now as adults, grasping at whatever they can get.

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      But ugly girls, they totally need to, amirite?

  • avatar
    TW5

    Distracted driving is a nice public safety campaign and political initiative, but it doesn’t show up in the data. The advent of smart phones has not lead to apocalyptic fatalities or a sharp increase in crashes and injuries.

    The distracted drivers of today are the same bad drivers we’ve always dealt with, they just have a new toy. If they don’t have a cell phone they will just go back to playing with the radio or watching DVDs or daydreaming.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      TW5 – You are absolutely correct. There were also calls to ban windshield wipers when they came out in the 1920s because they would put drivers into a hypnotic state cause crashes. There were similar calls to ban car radios in the 1930s because they would distract drivers and cause crashes.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    What will end up happening is this will be used like photo-box speed cameras – they will set it up along the road and automatically send a ticket to any car that passes where the device detects texting activity in the car. Great revenue device for the state that flies under the cover of “saving lives”. With automatic braking devices on more and more cars, accidents while texting should be a thing of the past within a few years, but of course there is no state revenue from that.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      “What will end up happening is this will be used like photo-box speed cameras – they will set it up along the road and automatically send a ticket to any car that passes where the device detects texting activity in the car”

      That’s idiotic. First off, “text activity” is shorthand for ALL of the ways you can be distracted via phone; texting, emailing, imessaging, facebook messaging, internet surfing, etc etc etc.

      And then, second, when you realize that, how do you determine what is “distracting behavior” like the above and what is simple data transfer like Waze or Google Maps updates, Pandora/etc streaming, an incoming email someone didn’t bother to acknowledge just passively received, blah blah blah blah.

      • 0 avatar
        stingray65

        S2k – Of course lots of people are not “distracted” by their in-car phone activity and hence not a real danger, but you do realize the most speeders who get a photo-box ticket in the mail are also not endangering anyone by going 37 in a 30 zone on clear sunny day in light traffic? Sure you can go to court and contest the ticket, but most people won’t bother and just send the required check in. This could be a very nice revenue source that some local governments won’t be able to resist, especially since it is promoted as a way to “save lives”.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I wouldn’t put anything past New York…

    But 1) how could this be legal without a warrant? Is this not personal property subject to 4th amendment requirements? Or are they gonna implied consent this garbage like they do with breathalyzers?

    2) They want these powers, yet I also hear them talking about giving illegal aliens drivers licenses? I believe this has not become law in New York however.

    3) Nobody seems to give 2 craps about people driving without insurance. I find that absurd it is not enforced unless you get pulled over. And yet we’re talking about searching people’s phones?! Something you know is gonna rip every piece of info out of that phone and give it to every govt org in the state and federal governments.

    • 0 avatar

      In NY, DMV keeps track of insurance. No insurance is a suspension. If you exceed 90 days, you have almost $1000 in fines to DMV. It is almost but not quite worse than a DWI ticket. Plates without insurance can cause LONG suspensions….I’ve seen it. Always turn in NY plates when you move…

      NY does NOT give illegals licenses. We have a whole subclass of drivers who used to have a license but they expired when they could not give DMV a Social Number. Interestingly, most law enforcement treat them like they had a license anyway, if they aren’t bad drivers or DWI types.

  • avatar

    In NY, the rule can be reduced to “touch it and die”. Its a five point offense.

    Most appear to be written in NYC, where the cop stands in the street, and all the folks who check texts at lights get tickets. Worse, no deals in NYC, so you eat the five points. This is designed to produce Driver Assessment taxes, which come in at six points, so phone plus turn signal is $375 to DMV. Cells used to be no points…then two…then three…and by executive order of Gov. Cuomo, now five. The Cuomos view the motorist as an endlessly abusable resource…we kept 55 way past time, and our 65 roads should be posted 70 or 75…but notgonnahappen, there is too much money out there.

    I only get annoyed when I see someone in a car you KNOW has bluetooth not using it.

  • avatar
    Hoon Goon

    USA – been riding the safety train to tyranny one “there ought to be a law against that” and “what about the children” at a time.

    Life is dangerous. People are idiots. Deal with it.

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