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Is distracted driving the same as drunk driving? The ‘textalyzer’ would treat it that way

A driver texting while driving.
A driver texting while driving.

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In an effort to curb an increase in distracted driving, a New York State lawmaker is proposing a law that would give police the technology to treat texting and driving the same way as drinking and driving.

The so-called “textalyzer” would allow police at the scene of a car accident to plug in drivers’ phones to their computer be able to tell if a driver has been texting, emailing, taking selfies, or doing anything else that is forbidden under the state’s hands-free driving law without viewing the specific content.

The company developing the software, Cellebrite, is the same data extraction company that was reported to have helped the FBI break into the iPhone that belonged to the San Bernardino shooter.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police may not search a smartphone without a warrant, the lawmaker who proposed the bill says the “textalyzer” would operate under the same ‘implied consent’ legal theory that a breathalyzer does. That is, when you get your driver’s license, you’re implicitly consenting to a future breathalyzer at the risk of losing your license if you refuse.

The bill faces hurdles from the tech privacy community, which worries that the law could fall afoul of the Fourth Amendment.


Thomas Dingus, professor of engineering at Virginia Tech University and director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute

Alan Butler, senior counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)