New York's 'textalyzer' could uncover distracted driving

Drunk driving is dangerous. So is texting while driving. Police have long had a test for drivers who imbibe too much, but they haven't had similar tools to combat distracted driving. Until now.

New York lawmakers are looking at a bill that would allow police to use a piece of technology to see if a phone was in use during an accident. The device is called a textalyzer, a spin on the breathalyzer used by police in DUI charges, according Engadget. An Iserali company called Cellebrite already has a roadside device that can read cellphones, though different companies would be allowed to bid on having their technology used. Cellebrite is the company rumored to have assisted with federal agents' attempt to break open the iPhone belonging to the San Bernardino shooter, reports Ars Technica.

The unprecedented piece of legislation would require drivers who have recently been in a crash to submit their cell phones to police for testing. The textalyzer wouldn't be able to read contacts or content, such as what you write in your texts, but it would tell the cops if the phone was in use before the crash. Lobbying group Distracted Operators Risk Casualties pushed for the new law. The group's founder, Ben Lieberman, lost his teenage son to a distracted driver. He was unable to prove the other driver was distracted until the family sued for the phone records.

"When people were held accountable for drunk driving, that's when positive change occurred," Lieberman said in a press release. "It's time to recognize that distracted driving is a similar impairment, and should be dealt with in a similar fashion. This is a way to address people who are causing damage."

The textalyzer also would work like a breathalyzer in another way – refusing to have your phone scanned would result in having your license immediately revoked. Texting while driving is dangerous, but it is still way behind inebriation in terms of carnage wrought on American roads. Drunk driving killed nearly 10,000 people in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That's an average of about 27 people killed every day, while distracted driving causes 8 deaths everyday, the CDC says.

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