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NYPD may be able to check cell phone use prior to accident with "textalyzer"

Traffic fatalities are again on the rise after years of decline. The tendency to multitask while driving is partially to blame. According to several recent surveys, Americans are not only texting while driving, but also using social media and taking selfies while navigating the roadways. According to federal data, road-related deaths in 2015 rose 8 percent from the previous year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration expects the problem to get worse, as distracted driving persists in being socially acceptable despite "hands-free" initiatives and similar campaigns urging drivers to refrain from digital distractions.

Is a textalyzer the answer?

Traffic safety advocates are looking for ways to curb texting and driving which parallel efforts in the 1980s to discourage drunk driving. New York legislators hope to take the campaign a step further by providing police with a digital equivalent of the Breathalyzer. Officers would be able to ask drivers involved in a car crash to hand over their phones. Consequences for refusing the Textalyzer test would be similar to those for refusal to take a Breathalyzer test, with license suspension a possibility. Once drivers surrender their phones, the Textalyzer would be used to examine the phone's operating system to determine if it was in use preceding the incident. The roadside test would specifically determine if any activities that are banned by New York law, including holding a phone to the ear, may have contributed to careless driving.

The proposed legislation faces some challenges, namely concerns about privacy. Felix W. Ortiz, an assemblyman who co-sponsored the Textalyzer bill, tells the New York Times that the device will not reveal personal information, such as the content of emails, texts, or social media posts. It will merely indicate whether the phone was in use and how it was used. Mr. Ortiz, a proponent of New York's 2001 ban on the use of hand-held devices behind the wheel, hopes that if the bill passes, it will create a significant disincentive to multitask on the road. It would also heighten public awareness and expand efforts to get drivers to put down their devices.

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