News & Politics

Meet the Modern Answer to the Breathalyzer: The 'Textalyzer' Can Tell If Your Phone Use Caused an Accident

Under New York State law, new technology will identify distracted mobile users at the scene of an accident.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Syda Productions

Studies have found that texting while driving can be even more dangerous, in terms of accident potential and deadly consequences, than either drug or alcohol use. Now there’s a way to find and penalize drivers who ignore texting bans and end up causing collisions.

The breathalyzer has long been used to determine whether drivers are under the influence. Now there’s the “textalyzer,” a new device that will alert authorities if a driver was texting just before or during a crash. The technology comes from Israeli firm Cellebrite, which Bloomberg indicates helped the FBI circumnavigate Apple in hacking the San Bernardino shooter’s iPhone. Following an accident, drivers would have to give their phones to law enforcement, who would use the textalyzer on the scene—just like a breathalyzer—to find out when the phone had last been used. While the test would reveal if usage had recently occurred, Ars Technica reports it would maintain the phone owner’s privacy, allegedly keeping “conversations, contacts, numbers, photos, and application data” out of the public domain.

A currently pending New York State bill would make use of the textalyzer a common practice, and drivers who refuse to give authorities their phones would have their license suspended. The legislation is due in large part to efforts by Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORC), a group that pushes to raise awareness around texting-and-driving threats. Evan's Law, as it’s being called, is named for the son of DORC co-founder Ben Lieberman, who was killed in a 2011 accident caused by a distracted driver.

In a press release, DORC co-founder Deborah Becker suggested texting casualties are likely at the root of rising accident numbers. "According to the National Safety Council car crash statistics spiked significantly this year and that is the first increase after ten years of steady decline,” said Becker. “Since drunk driving is down and today's cars are built better than ever, the addition of mobile devices in our lives becomes the most likely reason for this sudden increase.”

"The general public knows distracted driving is a problem, but if people knew the extent of the damage caused by this behavior, they would be amazed," Lieberman added. "With our current laws, we're not getting accurate information because the issue is not being addressed at the heart of the problem—with the people causing the collisions...I have often heard there is no such thing as a breathalyzer for distracted driving—so we created one.” 

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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