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Textalyzer could help police to identify distracted drivers

New Jersey has some of the strongest texting while driving punishments in the country. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $800 and a possible loss of driving privileges. However, even strict laws and rigorous enforcement do not seem to be enough to convince motorists to put their cellphones down and concentrate on the road ahead. In Nevada, lawmakers are considering an approach that would allow police in the state to use controversial technology to gather evidence of distraction at crash scenes.

Tickets for texting while driving are rarely issued unless the police officer involved actually observes a motorist engaging in the behavior. This is because distraction leaves no obvious signs and is hard to identify after the fact. The "textalyzer" devices being mulled in Nevada plug into electronic devices and reveal evidence of texting and swiping. Under the proposed law, motorists who refuse to comply with a request to inspect their phones would face the same kind of penalties as drivers who refuse to submit to a breath test.

A similar bill was introduced in New York in 2017, but it was rejected by lawmakers after civil rights groups including the American Civil Liberties Union raised objections. The Israel-based technology company that developed and makes the textalyzer claims its device gathers no personal information and does not infringe on Fourth Amendment rights. Law enforcement agencies around the country, none of which currently use the technology, will likely be paying close attention to the progress of the Nevada bill and a resubmitted bill in New York.

The information gathered by devices like the textalyzer could be obtained in other ways. Police officers who think that cellphone use may have contributed to a serious car crash could access this data by obtaining a search warrant. Furthermore, personal injury attorneys seeking evidence of negligence may subpoena wireless service records.

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