NY Bipartisan Group Pushes for “Textalyzer” Tech to Check Texting While Driving

New York State Senator Terrence Murphy (R-Westchester) and Assembly Assistant Speaker Felix Ortiz (D-Kings), along side representatives of the Alliance Combating Distracted Driving announced an aggressive push for New York’s “Evan’s Law” (Senate Bill S2306/Assembly Bill A3955). This first of its kind legislation to battle distracted driving, has progressed through its first committee votes with widespread support.

The bipartisan bill introduced in 2016, is designed to protect innocent people from distracted driving by formalizing an investigative mechanism for law enforcement. Commonly referred to as “Textalyzer,” the technology solution will allow officers to determine whether a device was being used around the time of a crash, without accessing private content and with the ability to differentiate between legal hands-free use as opposed to illegal touching and swiping.According to the Alliance, while there are numerous laws against texting while driving, none provide an effective policy or option to enforce those laws once a crash or damage has occurred. There is a popular misconception that this law is unnecessary as law enforcement will either examine a phone or subpoena the phone records at a crash scene. But due to limited jurisdiction and resources, this is simply not the case.

“I learned first hand, phones and phone records are rarely investigated. The public needs to understand and form opinions based on accurate information,” said Ben Lieberman, president of the Alliance Combating Distracted Driving and a known advocate. “There is not yet a standard protocol for determining the damage caused by distracted driving even though it is illegal and just as damaging as drunk driving. Even if law enforcement could access phone records, email, social media, web browsing or any active use of the phone, those actions wouldn’t be reported on a phone record. This has developed into a faceless and nameless crime and most concerning is that this lack of understanding prevents deterrents that were so effective in D.U.I. from being implemented.”

Senator Murphy and Assistant Speaker Ortiz continue to offer their steadfast support for Evan’s Law to protect New York citizens by ending distracted driving. The legislation is finding widespread support in the New York State Legislature as members gain awareness of the danger posed by distracted driving to their constituents.

“The data is frightening, NHTSA estimated that 391,000 people were injured in distracted driving crashes in 2015 and they predict an even higher number for 2016,” said Senator Murphy. “We have a civic duty to protect our citizens from the dangers of distracted drivers. As the trend continues in the wrong direction, we must do more. This legislation can mend an area that is clearly broken.”

“The proposed law carefully borrowed on what makes a Breathalyzer legal and constitutional. All fifty states have implemented sobriety tests based on the legal principle of implied consent where drivers agree to sobriety tests or lose driving privileges,” said Assistant Speaker Ortiz. “The distracted driving impairment is equal to the drinking impairment and needs to be dealt with in a similar manner. At a minimum, the behavior needs to be understood at a crash site, which this legislation specifically addresses. The idea is to have an efficient but very respectful investigation.”

During the proceedings, Cellebrite informed attendees that they have developed a working prototype of the Textalyzer technology officers would use to detect illegal typing and swiping around the time of a crash. The prototype delivers proof that a technical solution can allow officers to detect device usage in the field while maintaining the privacy of data stored on the device. The phone in question would never leave the driver’s hand and within 90 seconds a report is produced concerning illegal typing and swiping so an officer can make informed decisions. The prototype is a key piece to protecting the rights of all citizens and creating policies and procedures for the use of this enforcement technology.

“Law enforcement needs a dependable solution to quickly and simply carry out their duties. Cellebrite has developed an example of how a Textalyzer would function in the field,” said Jim Grady, CEO, Cellebrite, Inc. “Providing this solution is directly in line with our mission to deliver technology that enhances public safety. In this case, we are proud to stand with the Alliance and its partners to fight distracted driving.”

As part of the announcement, the Alliance Combating Distracted Driving released a new research report highlighting various variables that need to be considered in understanding the problem. The report offers a broader look at the many variables involved in distracted driving because there has been a lack of understanding about the root cause. There are theories that the record increase is due to more drivers on the road but as the report indicates, available data strongly suggests that the rate increase is more profound than can be explained by a more populated roadway.

“There were some alarming warnings, like when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that a texting driver is 5 times more dangerous than an intoxicated driver and also when the American Automobile Association reported that 67 percent of the population engages in this dangerous behavior. The combination is a potentially toxic mix,” said Lieberman. “Now that we are seeing record breaking numbers it’s getting hard to explain the origin because of the aforementioned lack of crash data.”

About Alliance Combating Distracted Driving

The Alliance Combating Distracted Driving is a national 501(c)(4) tax-exempt advocacy group seeking to change distracted driving behavior. Founded in 2016, the alliance educates policymakers and the public by providing research for evidence based decision making, as well as advocating for legislation to battle distracted driving to improve public safety. For more information visit http://alliancecombatingdistracteddriving.org.