Police explore effectiveness of controversial “Textalyzer” device to combat distracted driving

phone sits on car seat with broken glass

Decades of effort by groups in government, police, and lobbying organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD) has caused a dramatic decline in the rate of deaths caused by impaired driving since the 1980s. However the recent trend towards widespread use of mobile devices behind the wheel means that distracted driving is quickly becoming a more deadly issue.

In addition to drinking, drivers are now distracting themselves to death.

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In an effort to combat this threat to drivers, safety groups are refocusing their efforts in addressing distracted driving with the help of new technology. A company from Israel has introduced a “textalyzer” device to determine whether drivers have been using their phone at the time of a car accident. The textalyzer – which gets its name from the breathalyzer, a device that determines a driver’s blood alcohol content – is described as a roadside device that specializes in data extraction. New York is already considering creating a bill to allow police to use it. The proposed legislation would require drivers who have recently been in a car accident to submit their cell phones for police testing.

Liberty groups have complained that this textalyzer disrespects drivers’ personal privacy. In many cases, a cell phone is essentially a private computer, which typically requires a court-obtained warrant before police may interact with the device. Further, it is unclear whether the textalyzer will detect and differentiate between active and ambient phone use – legally acceptable examples include speech-to-text, hands-free calling, maps, and music applications.

While the textalyzer may provide immediate feedback on the use of a phone, it is uncertain how useful this information will be. Typically, a mobile device’s activity – including timestamped communications – is logged in carrier records which can be accessed by law enforcement with a warrant.

However, a textalyzer could help establish liability in car accident cases. If you are injured in a car accident because the other driver was distracted due to “texting-and-driving”, then the textalyzer may help prove the other driver’s negligence.

Distracted driving is a grave public safety concern impacting us all. While privacy issues still need to be resolved, this textalyzer may be a welcome and useful tool to make Ontario roads safer.

 

Norelle Di Gregorio
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