There’s no question that many of us are addicted to our phones and texting. A new gadget under development by a technology company in Israel has the capability, according to its hype, to scan a smartphone and determine how that phone was used in the minutes leading up to the crash. Called the Textalyzer, it may be coming to a police force near you, and coming sooner rather than later.
A handful of states are currently considering legislation that would allow police investigating a car crash in the field to scan the smartphones of the drivers involved to see if their phones were in use immediately before the accident. In nearly every state and the District of Columbia, it’s illegal to use a cell phone while driving. That includes texting.
According to the Department of Transportation, distracted driving was responsible for 3,196 fatal crashes in 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available.
What We Know
Think of it as a breathalyzer for cell phones. Developed by Cellebrite, a technology company in Israel specializing in data gathering, Textalyzer is roughly the size of an iPad and sufficiently portable to easily become part of the standard equipment carried in law-enforcement vehicles. When plugged into a Textalyzer through a hard-wire connection, a smartphone will reveal how it was used for a predetermined amount of time before the crash. Not only will that information include which apps were open, but also how the phone was tapped, swiped, clicked and pinched.
If the accident investigator determines the phone was in use immediately before or during the crash, it would hasten the process for a search warrant to dig deeper into the smartphone’s content.
Among the governments considering or already working on legislation to give accident investigators the authority to use Textalyzer as an investigation tool are the states of New York, Tennessee, New Jersey and the city of Chicago. Like the breathalyzer, submitting to Textalyzer will probably be mandatory. Either submit or lose your driver’s license for some predetermined amount of time. Unlike the breathalyzer that is usually only used if there is a suspicion alcohol might be involved, Textalyzer may well become a routinely used tool no matter the circumstances.
Government watchdogs and civil-liberties advocates are already objecting to the potential use of Textalyzer as an assault on our Fourth-Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. According to published reports, though, Cellebrite claims Textalyzer doesn’t reveal what was said or texted, it just discloses that the device was in use.
What it means to you: Frustrated that texting while driving continues, expect at least one state to approve legislation for its law enforcement to employ Textalyzer in accident investigations. That use will no doubt be challenged in the courts. Whether law enforcement where you live will be able to use it will depend on how the courts rule. If it’s declared legal to use in one state, more than likely it will find its way into the accident investigations of most states.