New York’s Proposed “Textalyzer” Law
Many states, in an effort to curb drunk driving, have made it illegal for drivers who are pulled over by police to refuse a breathalyzer. Florida is one of these states. Under Florida law, by accepting the privilege of driving in the state, you give your implied consent to submit to a blood, urine, or breathalyzer test in the event you are stopped on suspicion of DUI. If you refuse the test, your license will be suspended. Now, New York plans to use the implied consent idea to combat distracted driving as well.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each day in the U.S. more than 8 people are killed and 1,161 are injured in crashes reportedly involving a distracted driver. The CDC identifies three different types of distraction: taking your eyes off the road, taking your hands off the wheel, and taking your mind off driving. For most people, the phrase “distracted driving” calls to mind a driver texting or otherwise using a cell phone while on the road. One way for police to establish whether distracted driving caused a collision would be to search the drivers’ phones at the site of the accident.
New York proposes “implied consent” to a cell phone search
But the Supreme Court has ruled that police cannot search a cell phone’s contents without a warrant. New York has a proposed solution to skirt that warrant requirement at the scene of an accident, using a new device known as a “textalyzer.” According to Ars Technica, the textalyzer was developed to be to distracted driving what the breathalyzer is to drunk driving. A textalyzer can examine a cell phone to determine whether the phone was in use immediately prior to a crash, without revealing the phone’s actual contents. It would, for example, indicate whether a person was texting before a collision, but not the substance of any texts. Contacts, photos, and other data would also remain private.
The New York Senate Transportation Committee is considering legislation that would authorize police to use a textalyzer to examine cell phones at an accident scene to determine whether any of the drivers involved were using their phones at the time of the accident. Under the proposed law, drivers would be deemed to have given “implied consent” to a textalyzer search of their phones, and would forfeit their licenses if they refused a search. Further analysis to determine whether any phone usage was hands-free and to confirm the textalyzer’s conclusion would require a warrant. If New York is successful in this attempt, other states are likely to follow suit – perhaps Florida as well.
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