A new device called a ‘textalyzer’ is being developed to help law enforcement officers detect whether or not drivers in accidents were distracted by texting, social media and other applications while they were driving, resulting in their accidents.Currently, law enforcement officers must get search warrants in order to search drivers’ phones, making it difficult for them to enforce existing distracted driving laws. A lawyer for a car accident injury victim likewise may have difficulty uncovering evidence that proves the at-fault driver was distracted in the moments preceding the accident. Opponents of the textalyzer device have concerns about the privacy of drivers whose phones would be searched using it.
How the Textalyzer Device Would Work
With a textalyzer device, a police officer who suspects that a driver was distracted by a cell phone would not be required to take the phone away and check inside of it. Instead, the officer could simply use a cable to attach the device to the phone, and the driver would not have to take it of his or her hands. The officer would tap a button on the device, and it would take about 90 seconds to return a report of the activities that the driver engaged in immediately before the accident with time stamps. Cellebrite, the company that is working to develop the technology, states that it would not download content from the phones but would instead detect swipes and taps. It would also provide a summary of what applications were open at the time of the accident and whether messages were incoming or outgoing.
This could be used as evidence by a lawyer for a car accident injury victim to show that the driver was at fault because of distraction. It could also be used to prosecute the distracted drivers for using their phones with their hands while driving.
Privacy Concerns about Textalyzers
While textalyzers could help to prove that drivers were using their cell phones illegally, causing accidents, privacy advocates have concerns about their use by law enforcement officers. They argue that these devices would allow police to search the phones of drivers after even minor accidents. They also have concerns that the searches would be warrantless but could amount to drivers effectively providing information to officers that could then be used against them in court. Americans have a constitutional right against self-incrimination and a right against unreasonable searches and seizures. If the devices are used by police in Illinois and elsewhere, they are likely to be legally challenged.
Distracted Driving a Big Problem
Distracted driving is a huge problem in Chicago and across the country. An increasing percentage of accidents are believed to involve distraction from cell phone use, and the number of accidents overall has also increased. According to the National Safety Council, traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent in 2016 with nearly 40,000 people in the U.S. killed. A spokesperson for the NSC stated that the availability of textalyzers could be a major game changer in the drive to reduce motor vehicle accidents and their resulting fatalities and injuries. Lawmakers in several states and cities are interested in possibly authorizing the use of textalyzers by law enforcement officers, and they are under consideration in Chicago and other major cities in addition to the states of New York, New Jersey and Tennessee.
The Problem with Existing Distracted Driving Laws
Using cell phones while driving with the hands is prohibited in almost every state, but it is very difficult to prove that a driver was using a cell phone just before a crash. Police officers cannot take the cell phones of drivers and search them without first getting a search warrant to do so. Getting a search warrant is not always a straightforward process.
Officers must write a search warrant affidavit outlining the evidence that demonstrates that they have probable cause to believe that the drivers were distracted by using their cell phones, causing their accidents. The search warrants must be approved by judges before they can be issued, and the process can take time. This process means that even when distracted driving is suspected, many drivers are not prosecuted for it. It also makes it more difficult for a lawyer for a car accident injury victim to prove that the other driver was distracted by using a cellphone.
If police are allowed to use textalyzers, a lawyer for a car accident injury victim could get copies of the reports in the discovery process, and the reports might make it easier to convince insurance companies about the drivers’ liability. This may make the insurance companies likelier to offer reasonable and fair settlements to victims of car accident injuries so that they can be made whole again.