YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
AF TER A TEXTING driver ended the life of my 19-year-old son, Evan, in a collision,
I soon learned that police and the legal system are not prepared to deal with this issue
properly. Phones and phone records are rarely investigated.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driving a
vehicle while texting is six times more dangerous than driving while intoxicated.
Despite this, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that 67 percent of drivers
still use their mobile phones while behind the wheel.
Police need the Textalyzer, a tool similar to the Breathalyzer, which tests blood
alcohol levels and serves as a strong deterrent to those who engage in an equally
Opponents of the Textalyzer are promoting several myths, which encourage a
dangerous false sense of security.
One myth is that the Textalyzer is unnecessary since police can always check
phone records. The truth: Phone record logs merely report texting and phone calls.
But email, web browsing and apps like Facebook are bundled as data usage and combined with things like weather alerts and ballgame scores. This renders phone records
useless for determining if a driver was using those other popular distractive activities.
Additionally, in most states, warrants are not easy to obtain and neither are mobile
Another myth is that the Textalyzer is an invasion of privacy. In fact, evaluating
the crash can be done without accessing personal data. The technology does not
reveal the content of the messages, phone numbers or any other private matter.
Notably, the Textalyzer will distinguish between legal hands-free device use versus
touching the screen. Also, if a passenger was using the driver’s phone at the time of a
crash, this would not be implicated as the cause.
I believe we have found a balance of interests by monitoring a device’s usage
instead of its content, via the Textalyzer. I don’t want to be responsible for violating
anyone’s privacy rights, but I also don’t want to get another call like the one I got about
Evan—the call that every parent dreads. I don’t want to bury another loved one. I’m
sure you don’t either. C
DRIVING WHILE TEXTING is a real public safety concern, and lawmakers are
right to look for strategies that will maintain road safety. But the various bills, such as
one pending in New York state, to permit police use of “Textalyzers,” digital technology that checks a device’s operating system for recent activity, are heading down the
According to the manufacturer Cellebrite, a tech firm that also develops sophisticated devices for data extraction, Textalyzers could be deployed after a crash to
determine if any of the drivers were using their cellphones. The New York bill would
require all drivers to consent to the police search of their cellphones or face losing
their driver’s license.
As with the Breathalyzer, the goal of the Textalyzer is to determine whether a
driver’s impairment caused an accident. But unlike Breathalyzers, Textalyzers could
provide the police with a lot more information about drivers than whether they had
too much to drink. Cellebrite concedes that the device could gather detailed personal
information from the phone but says that the enhanced feature would be deployed
only if the police obtained a warrant.
The U.S. Supreme Court is rightly concerned about the privacy risks of turning
over cellphones to the police. In a decision that included both the liberal and the con-
servative justices, the court said the police must obtain a warrant before searching a
cellphone. As they explained in a ruling on cellphone privacy, one of the “most notable
distinguishing features of modern cell phones is their immense storage capacity.”
And it is easy to imagine the many ways that a Textalyzer might be used if it
becomes part of police gear. Drivers who are stopped for traffic violations, such as
speeding, could be asked to turn over their cellphones. Even pedestrians who are
stopped might be subject to Textalyzers. The public safety value of these searches will
be minimal, but the privacy risks are very real.
States should prosecute drivers who cause injury to others, but that does not
mean a blank check to search cellphones. C
Opinions expressed are those of
the individuals or organizations
represented and are presented
to foster discussion. Costco and
The Costco Connection take no
position on any Debate topic.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is the Textalyzer a good
way to prevent texting
is the co-founder
org), an advocacy
group that works to
mobile phone use
is executive director of the Electronic
Center ( epic.org).
Should your cable
box be unlocked to
Percentage re;ects votes received
by September 19, 2016.
Results may re;ect Debate being
picked up by blogs.
COMMENT ON AN
Your opinion may appear in a
future issue of The Connection.
Like us on