From Forbes, 05.15.2017:
Legislation that’s working its way through Albany could allow New York authorities to check drivers’ phones for signs of distraction following an accident, and to impose penalties for refusing that could burden drivers down the road.
A bill that would legalize the use of “textazlyer” devices for determining activity on drivers’ phones is seeing bipartisan support from New York lawmakers, WGRZ Buffalo reported. If passed, it could make New York the first state to implement the technology for catching distracted drivers, who contributed to more than 10,000 traffic fatalities in the last year alone, according to WGRZ.
Now moving through senate and assembly committees, the bill would require drivers who’ve been involved in an accident to let authorities scan their phones for evidence of recent use, or face penalties and license suspension, both at the time and later on, if they refuse. Once developed, the field test could allow officers to quickly generate a time-stamped report on which applications were running and whether drivers were using devices ‘hands on’ or ‘hands free’-style around the time of the accident, according to NPR.
State Senator Mike Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst), who co-sponsored the bill, told WGRZ that a textalyzer tool would not access other content on the phone, nor be able to read text messages, for example, that drivers may have sent or received on the road. Ranzehofer also said the bill could be passed in the legislature by the end of its current session, which concludes next month, and assured WGRZ, “If the device was trolling through your information, I would not be in support of it.”
In New York, the legislation would be known as Evan’s Law, named for 19-year-old Evan Lieberman, who was killed in a 2011 car crash that was later found to be the result of distracted driving. His father Ben Lieberman told NPR he’d “found out the hard way” after his son’s death that obtaining driver phone records after an accident can be “an agonizing process.”
“We often hear, ‘just get a warrant’ or ‘just get the phone records,’ [implying] that the warrant is like filling out some minor form … In New York, it involves a D.A. and a judge. Imagine getting a D.A. and a judge involved in every breathalyzer that’s administered,” he told NPR. Once obtained, such records only show activities like calls and texts, Lieberman said, but not whether drivers were checking email, browsing Twitter, or using any number of other popular apps and platforms.
Recently, Lieberman and representatives of Cellebrite, an Israeli tech developer, demonstrated the textalyzer system they’ve been working on before lawmakers in New York. CBS New York reported that Cellebrite hopes to finish the technology in around nine months, and said the final product will be designed to protect drivers’ data by only seeking evidence of activity on their phones. “For this device, the whole purpose is not to get any data,” said Jim Grady, CEO of Cellebrite USA, to CBS. “So no, police won’t be able to, unless they rewrite our code.”
Depending on the final product, the bill may also force drivers who, for whatever reason, want to protect their privacy by refusing to surrender phones to face some difficult decisions. According to the bill, everyone operating a motor vehicle which “has been involved in an accident or collision involving damage to real or personal property, personal injury, or death, and who has in his [sic] possession at or near the time of such accident or collision, a mobile telephone or electronic device,” would be required to submit such device or devices for on-the-spot field testing upon authorities’ request.
If a driver refuses to surrender their phone for ‘textalyzing,’ they could be subject to a variety of consequences under the bill, starting with the immediate suspension of their driver’s license. In such case, “The police officer will inform the driver that the person’s license or permit to drive and any non-resident operating privilege shall be immediately suspended and subsequently revoked,” the bill explains, while the record of refusal itself “shall be admissible in any trial, proceeding, or hearing” based on a violation of related distracted driving laws, and makes drivers vulnerable to higher fees and heavier punishment later on–all of which could weigh particularly heavily on low-income drivers, those whose employment relies on having an active license, and other disproportionately targeted groups.
According to the Tennessee Law Blog, similar technology is already being used by the FBI, while a number of states are also eyeing the system as a way to bring down the large number of U.S. road fatalities each year.
My opinion: Textalyzer field testing is a huge overreach by the government and undoubtedly backed by insurance companies, who have become de facto arms of law enforcement of late. We all know how this will turn up – FUBAR’d to heck and any personal privacy will be gone forever. Are we seriously becoming such big babies that we can’t restrain ourselves from having to text non-urgent messages while driving? We need government to monitor our every movement because we can’t trust ourselves? With all due respect to those who have lost loved ones to distracted drivers- it’s not the cell, it’t the driver. It’s after the fact. If a person isn’t conscious of their actions, endangering everyone else’s privacy is not the answer. There are apps out there that won’t allow texting while driving for our inexperienced drivers or the weak-willed:
Drive First comes straight from Sprint, and it’s cool that carriers are getting into the no-texting-while-driving game. Your phone automatically locks when you start driving, so no need to start or stop the app, and it automatically replies to texts. But sometimes you need access to things on your phone, right? Drive First lets you set 3 driving apps – like maps or music – so you can get what you need without being tempted to text. You can also set VIP contacts to bypass the block so important people like your husband or boss aren’t blocked every time you get into the car.
You might have heard of Focus if you’re a fan of Note to Self. The episode that featured Focus was…um, focused on “wexting” – walking and texting – but it works just as well for driving. Like DriveMode, Focus doesn’t actually block anything. Instead, it works to train you to not use your phone while you’re driving. When you’re using it, Focus will tell you to pay attention to your driving. And honestly, while it starts off with gentle reminders, it can get kind of aggressive. If you’re not someone who handles confrontation well, you’ll probably learn quickly. You get report cards emailed to you so you can see how you (or someone else, like your kids) did. If you’re looking to form habits instead of just have your phone locked down, consider Focus.
If you want something that’s a little less intense, consider Drive Mode. (Not to be confused with the above DriveMode. I know.) It doesn’t block anything, but it does prevent your lockscreen from enabling, so no more typing in PINs or swiping patterns, and it automatically switches calls to your speakerphone. It’s pretty simple, but those two changes remove a lot of the distractions you face from your phone.
TextNoMore is interesting because it gives you an incentive to not text and drive (besides, you know, not dying). When you’re about to drive, you start the app and put in your estimated driving time. It’ll shut down notifications – nothing revolutionary about that – but the service is partnered with various retailers to provide coupons if you don’t text. It also shows missing children notifications once the app shuts down, so you can feel like you’re doing good, too. The app itself is a little rough-looking, but it’s an intriguing idea and it’ll be interesting to see if others implement similar features.
For now, keep your eyes on the road and your cell in your pocket, purse or glove compartment, if you really need to.
BNI Operatives: Situationally aware.
As always, stay safe.