Will NY Police Use Textalyzer to Investigate Car Accidents?

Even though the practice is illegal, driving while using a cellphone remains a problem in New York. Over 1 million tickets were issued for driving-related cellphone violations in the state between 2011 and 2015.

Laws pertaining to driving while using cellphones exist because a hefty human cost is linked to the practice. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that approximately nine people are killed and over 1,000 injured in the United States every day in distracted driving (cellphone-related) accidents.

What is being done to address the problem of distracted driving?

An entrepreneur has created a device that would specifically target cellphone distractions while driving. It is designed to perform a function similar to the breathalyzer-but on a cellphone; accordingly, the device is referred to as the "Textalyzer." Where the breathalyzer provides information about alcohol consumption, the Textalyzer will provide information about phone usage around the time of an accident.

The Textalyzer will not provide details as to what a cellphone was being used for (e.g., texting, browsing the internet, or other functions), nor can it determine whether a driver was using hands-free technology. The device will simply allow an officer at the scene to determine if the phone was in use at the time of the crash.

Proposed New York Legislation

New York introduced proposed legislation in 2016 to allow for the use of Textalyzers by police officers, with a new version introduced in 2017. The purpose of the bill states that it is "to increase enforcement of existing prohibitions on the use of mobile telephones and/or personal electronic devices" while also pushing through "the creation of a field test that law enforcement may conduct at the scene of the accident."

Will New York officials use this type of device?

Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced that he is directing the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee to run an investigation focused on these devices. One of the key areas of the investigation is a review of potential constitutional and privacy violations.

Critics of the device argue that it violates basic constitutional rights to privacy. The argument is supported by the fact that police generally need a warrant in order to get information from someone's phone. On the other side, the innovators behind the Textalyzer argue that the device simply checks to see if the phone was in use at the time of the accident-it does not does not gather any content from the phone. Other proponents of the device note that in addition to not violating privacy rights, the problem with distracted driving has gone too far. They further argue that the dangers of distracted driving are not being respected by drivers, and additional measures, like the Textalyzer, are necessary to hold distracted drivers accountable for the damage they cause.

Will New York lawmakers allow the use of Textalyzers?

New York is often at the forefront of innovative laws. New York's Department of Motor Vehicles executive deputy commissioner pointed out that the state was the first to "adopt a motorcycle helmet law, a seat belt law for front-seat passengers and a cell-phone law." At the same time, while it appears that the state may consider allowing use of the device by police, those decisions may ultimately be influenced by the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee's investigation and its findings.

As of the writing of this article, the bill is still under consideration and is sitting in several Senate committees.