New Technology Detects Texting While Driving, But Is It Illegal?

Distracted driving causes more than 3,000 deaths per year, which includes texting while driving. If the driver was texting and driving and caused an accident, how would someone know? Phone records do not give details of what apps may have been in use, but new technology may change that. However, is this new texting while driving technology illegal?

New technology to detect texting while driving

After an accident, phone records can be obtained. However, CTIA, a trade association that represents the wireless industry, says operators can see when a data session is conducted. The problem? It’s difficult to distinguish what that information is. Phone records don’t show when specific apps are used, like Instagram or Facebook or Snapchat.

That is where Cellebrite is trying to enter into the equation. They have developed a prototype called the Textalyzer. What does it do? The Textalyzer is a tablet about the size of an iPad that police can plug into a driver’s phone. From there, software scans the phone’s system logs and pulls up a list of activity. Police stations could buy the equipment and a monthly subscription for upgrades and what not. This would allow police officers to scan your phone without a warrant, which is where the legal issues come into play.

Right now, according to Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the ACLU, “For centuries, we’ve had a very clear legal framework by which government agents access extremely private sources of information about us, and that’s the warrant, based on probable cause.”

While the Textalyzer does not show specific messages or conversations or posts you have done, it will give you a list of the activity you have done and apps used and when you used them. This will bring the texting while driving concept to fruition. However, Hannah Bloch-Wehba, who teaches media law at Yale, says it would be illegal also.

“The analogy is sort of like if the police were to come and open your file cabinet and look at all of the titles of the files in the cabinet but weren’t to look at the contents of those files,” she said.  “Opening the cabinet is itself the search. So plugging in the Textalyzer, there is the search. And it doesn’t matter whether the police look at the content or the activity on the phone. They’ve still searched the phone by plugging in the device.”

The Textalyzer is just a prototype for now, so changes can be made. The Traffic Safety Committee in New York is currently reviewing the technology and will be getting feedback from drivers along the way. This could give us a much better perspective with regards to texting while driving, but does it pass legal standards?

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[Photo by Digital Trends]