IS IT CONSTITUTIONAL? A ‘Breathalyzer’ For Texting … Good Idea Or Bad?

Written by Kevin Fobbs on May 18, 2017

The death of a loved one, especially a child, can be a very haunting experience for any parent. According to Fox News, when Ben Lieberman of New York was informed in 2011 that his 19-year-old son, Evan had been in a head-on collision that killed him, the father wanted answers about what and how the accident happened and what the other driver had been doing before the accident.

Like many surviving loved ones, the information of what occurred is typically not easily accessible. For Lieberman, it actually took a lawsuit and several months in court to gain access to the cellphone records of the driver who killed his son and those records revealed that the person had been texting while driving. So, the father of Evan decided that something drastic had to be done in order to prevent others surviving loved ones from suffering the grief he was feeling.

Lieberman focused his need to help others into developing a proposal that would give law enforcement officials an immediate tool at an accident scene to immediately examine a driver’s cellphones with a device. Much like a Breathalyzer which is used to determine alcohol levels, the so-called “textalyzer” would be able to determine if a driver in an accident had been tapping, swiping or clicking beforehand.

Texting while driving has been a major factor in deadly vehicle crashes on the nation’s streets and highways for over two decades. Deborah Hersman, the CEO of the National Safety Council is in total support of Lieberman’s “textalyzer”. She emphasized that last year in 2016, 40,000 people died on the road, a 14 percent jump from 2014 and the biggest two-year jump in 50 years, reported Fox News.

Currently, Lieberman’s home state of New York’s legislature is considering his type of “textalyzer’ device as a tool to combat distracted drivers who text while operating their vehicle on the road. Even though this sounds like a common-sense solution to helping to lower the deaths that result from distracted driver accidents, there is opposition.

The constitutionalists and privacy advocates raising their voiced opposition to giving investigating police on the scene more legal authority than they currently have. They point to the fact that at the moment law enforcement officials need the owner’s consent and a warrant to gain access to a driver’s cellphone records. In addition, these detractors to a textalyzer device suggest that this type of advanced technology would be improperly used to obtain of the personal information people may have on their cellphones.

As expected, the New York Civil Liberties Union has chimed in to oppose any legalization by the New York legislature of a “textalyzer” being used by police departments in the state. Its state Executive Director Donna Lieberman (no relation to Ben Lieberman), stressed, “Every fender bender would become a pretense for gobbling up people’s private cellphone information, and we know that cellphones typically contain our entire lives,” reported Fox News.

Under the proposed Senate bill which has been approved in one committee, a person would not be criminalized for refusing to have their phone checked, but they could get their license suspended, according to Fox News. The rationale for suspending a driver’s license who has refused to provide cellphone information is based on the assumption that a person implies consent to drive without distractions when they obtain a license, said to Jay Shapiro, a New York attorney and former deputy district attorney.

photo credit: Excerpted from: MSVG OUT! via photopin (license)

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Kevin Fobbs
Kevin Fobbs has more than 35 years of wide-ranging experience as a community and tenant organizer, Legal Services outreach program director, public relations consultant, business executive, gubernatorial and presidential appointee, political advisor, widely published writer, and national lecturer. Kevin is co-chair and co-founder of AC-3 (American-Canadian Conservative Coalition) that focuses on issues on both sides of the border between the two countries.