We are all familiar with Breathalyzer devices used by police to find out if motorists were drinking and driving. However, new a new machine that tests for texting at the wheel has made headlines in recent months, sparking a civil liberties debate over the use of “Textalyzers.” The use of a device like the Textalyzer would provide evidence in a criminal case as well as showing a driver was distracted for a personal injury lawsuit.
At the Law Offices of Randolph Rice, we help many victims of distracted driving crashes. Texting or checking social media at the wheel is often compared to drunk driving. Those vital seconds when the driver is not concentrating on the road ahead can cause a catastrophic accident. Our Baltimore car accident lawyers are here to explain how the use of a Textalyzer could affect distracted driving accident lawsuits in Maryland.
What is the Textalyzer?
The Textalyzer is a tablet-like device. Police officers can plug it into suspect drivers’ phones to find out what they were doing on the devices in the moments leading up to a wreck.
The device made in Israel could prove important for accidents caused by distracted driving in the United States. If you were on your cell before a car crash, the device will let the police know. A proposal in Nevada would allow cops to use Textalyzers for drivers suspected of texting and web surfing while driving if it becomes law, USA Today reports.
Opponents fear the widespread use of Textalyzers would infringe on the privacy of drivers across the country. It’s a gray area of the law, although not one that should obscure the dangers of distracted driving.
Israel-based company Cellebrite developed the Textalyzer. The technology allows police to find out if a driver was texting or opened a message on Facebook, Twitter, or another social media site in the moments before a police stop.
The device is championed by Ben Lieberman whose son Evan was killed in a crash involving a distracted driver. Lieberman sits on the board of the Alliance Combating Distracted Driving. The organization’s mission is to promote the use of the Textalyzer in a way that can “provide a respectful, efficient and accurate investigation at the scene of a car crash without violating privacy rights.”
Opponents of the device are not convicted it can be widely introduced without posing a threat to driver privacy.
Textalyzer Laws in Baltimore, Maryland
No state legislature has yet introduced a law that permits the use of the Textalyzer. Lawmakers introduced a measure similar to the one proposed in Nevada in the New York State legislature in 2017. The measure failed but it is being considered again.
In the original version of the proposal in Nevada, drivers who refused to have their phones looked at by police would face a 90-day suspension of their driver’s license. The measure’s sponsor, Democratic Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow, later withdrew the penalty and said police must obtain a warrant when a driver refuses phone access.
Given that police can already obtain warrants to search cellphones, other lawmakers asked if the legislation was necessary at all.
However, police do not routinely seek warrants to obtain protected cell phone information, even when a suspected distracted driver causes a fatal crash.
Lieberman, whose 19-year-old son was killed by a distracted driver in 2011, argues phone records don’t give the whole picture. He told NBC News social media searches or drivers taking selfies are not covered by traditional searches. He said:
“That’s like giving a Breathalyzer that just detects beer.”
What are the Privacy Concerns with the Textalyzer?
Opponents of proposed laws in Nevada and New York State point to recent legal cases.
In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled police and other enforcement agencies require a search warrant to open a phone confiscated during an arrest in the case of Riley v. California.
Opponents of the new measures are concerned they violate the Fourth Amendment which protects suspects against unreasonable search and seizure.
USA Today reported Jay Stanley, a policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, asked how the software will work and if the results will be open sourced so as the public can make sure the Textalyzer does not access personal content.
National Distracted Driving Statistics
The seriousness of the distracted driving epidemic has fueled debates about new laws in America and ever-tougher legislation. Many of these laws are wider than the use of devices like the Textalyzer.
A law enacted in 2018 in Oregon bans drivers from using any electronic device that’s not permanently installed in their car. The ban extends to all smartphones, digital music players, tablets and any device allowing drivers to listen to music players, talk, text, play games, check their emails or even get directions.
First-time violators face a fine of $1,000 under Oregon distracted driving law.
Maryland prohibits the use of any handheld phone while driving. This includes texting, reading, or writing a message.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine people on average lose their lives every day in the United States because of distracted driving. More than 1,000 are injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states distracted driver killed 3,450 people in the United States in 2016. About 14 percent involved someone using a smartphone or another electronic device, the agency said.
The rapid growth of smartphone technology in recent years fueled distracted driving accidents. Decades ago, drivers could only talk on mobile phones. Today’s smartphones contain numerous apps that allow users to text, search the internet, go on social media, take pictures, play online games, and post information. For many drivers, the lure of their smartphone is too great to resist, even at the wheel.
Younger drivers are particularly vulnerable to distracted driving. A study in 2015 found 42 percent of high school students reported sending a text or email while driving in the previous 30 days, reported the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
In Maryland, drivers under age 18 and under are banned from using any kind of communication device while driving, including all handheld and hands-free cell phones and devices that permit text messaging.
Distracted driving is extremely dangerous. Texting is particularly hazardous. Drivers who text at the wheel take their eyes off the road for an average of almost five seconds, according to a federal transportation study. Drivers traveling at 55 mph are essentially driving blindfolded for the length of a football field.
Talk to a Maryland Distracted Driving Lawyer Today
Many experts believe the studies underestimate the number of crashes caused by distracted drivers. Research suggests drivers who are not focused on the road ahead cause as many as a third of all wrecks. Distracted drivers were involved in more than 56,000 crashes in Maryland in 2017, according to the state’s Department of Transportation. Many of these wrecks led to severe injuries, deaths and property damage.
Not all distracted driving crashes involve texting or electronic devices. Talking to a passenger, pets, eating, and looking at events outside the car are all forms of distracted driving.
Our Maryland distracted driving lawyers take on the distracted driver’s insurance companies. Using an electronic device at the wheel is as dangerous as driving drunk. No text message or call is important enough to risk your life or that of other road users. Please contact us today if the driver who hit you was not paying attention to the road.