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Why you should know about the 'textalyzer'

Too many drivers still text behind the wheel, despite warnings about how dangerous it is as well as increasingly stringent penalties for those caught texting and driving.

If law enforcement officers believe that a driver involved in a crash was texting behind the wheel, they have to obtain a warrant for phone records if the driver doesn't willingly hand over his or her phone. That may not be as easy as it might seem, and it requires showing probable cause.

Now, lawmakers in cities and states throughout the country are looking at legalizing the use of technology commonly referred to as a "textalyzer." The technology not only detects whether a driver was texting, but whether he or she was doing anything else on a cellphone at the time of the crash, including using social media, emailing or browsing the internet within moments before a crash.

One man who lost his son in a fatal crash involving a texting driver is advocating for this new technology and working with a company that is working to developing it. This technology would improve the likelihood of criminal penalties as well as civil litigation by victims and surviving family members.

The way the device works is that an officer connects it to the phone. The driver doesn't have to turn the phone over. It shows the most recent activities on that phone, including what apps were open and being used and at exactly what time.

Privacy advocates have expressed concern about invasion of privacy without a warrant. However, an engineer with the company working on the technology, Cellebrite, stresses that it does not show the content of what was being accessed. It records swipes and taps only. The information can be obtained in under two minutes.

While Florida lawmakers aren't currently among those considering legalizing the technology, it's important to know that it is something that is on the horizon. Even without it, there are ways to determine whether someone was using a cellphone or other electronic device at the time of a crash.

The best defense against both criminal charges and civil litigation for causing an injury or death due to distracted driving is simply to turn off all handheld devices and put them out of reach while you're driving. If you or a loved one is facing charges, however, it's essential to seek legal guidance.

Source: National Public Radio, "'Textalyzer' Aims To Curb Distracted Driving, But What About Privacy?," David Schaper, accessed June 09, 2017

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