Texting while driving has proven to be a troublingly pervasive phenomenon on America’s roads today. A recent study showed that nearly half of all drivers polled admitted to texting while driving, a dangerous activity that routinely causes auto accidents. Faced with such daunting crash statistics, some lawmakers have had enough. The Chicago City Council is considering amending the current municipal code to allow police to use a “Textalyzer” to confirm whether motorists were texting while driving in distracted-driving auto accident cases.
Textalyzer to Extract Information From Cell Phones
On January 11, 2018, the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Public Safety held a hearing to discuss the “use of emerging technology in enforcement of traffic laws and vehicle accident investigations.” The chief topic of conversation was the potential deployment of so-called Textalyzers when investigating distracted-driving cases. This technological device can quickly extract information out of cell phones.
14th Ward Alderman Edward M. Burke proposed soliciting the input of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) on amending the current municipal law to allow police officers to use the cell-spy technology.
Claiming that there was “clearly something broken” in the current enforcement of distracted driving laws, Ald. Burke told Eric Carter, CPD’s deputy chief of special functions, that he would “like the police department to share, to see if there’s something we should do to change our present distracted driving ordinance that can permit a more robust enforcement of distracted driving.”
At least three different proponents of equipping law enforcement with the device spoke during the hearing, including Ben Lieberman, who co-founded Distracted Operators Risk Casualties following the 2011 death of his 19-year-old son Evan in a car crash in which the driver was believed to have been using his cell phone. Since the collision, Mr. Lieberman has been traveling the country advocating for the use of technology like the Textalyzer.
Breathalyzer for Texting
Much like the Breathalyzer, which is routinely deployed by police when motorists are suspected of driving under the influence of alcohol, the Textalyzer would be used in cases where drivers are believed to have been texting while driving.
The Textalyzer was developed by Cellebrite, an Israeli company with offices in New Jersey and Virginia. Jody Wacker, the vice president of Cellebrite, testified at the Chicago City Council’s hearing. Ms. Wacker played a video depicting the use of the device and stressed multiple times that the Textalyzer would only capture a cell phone’s metadata, not its actual data.
Thus, an officer with a Textalyzer can plug the device into a suspect’s cell phone to see when certain texting activity occurred, but not the content of the messages or who received the texts. The Textalyzer does not capture or copy a suspect’s data, actions that Ms. Wacker said would require a warrant.
The Textalyzer is the size of a tablet computer. It plugs into a cell phone and can pull up its metadata within 90 seconds. Ms. Wacker indicated that Cellebrite has not yet produced the Textalyzer in great quantities, stating that the device is a prototype that would be built out depending on “where the first sets of legislation are and how the law is written.”
Civil Liberties Advocates Express Concern
Civil liberties advocates have expressed concern about the use of Textalyzers. Ed Yohnka, the director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), noted at the hearing that a similar justification was used when Stingrays were first introduced in Illinois. The Stingray is a toaster-sized box that sends out the same signal as a cellular tower, causing a cell phone to connect with the Stingray instead.
The Stingray was designed to track a cell phone’s location and examine its metadata, but the technology has improved so much over time that law enforcement can now use them to eavesdrop on calls, inspect messages, jam a cell phone’s signal, install malware, and drain a cell phone’s battery, all without the knowledge of the cell phone’s user.
Legal Regulation of Textalyzers Unclear
Mr. Yohnka further pointed out that it is unclear whether the use of Textalyzers by law enforcement would be regulated by state or federal law since it is also unclear what the devices actually do.
As an example, he cited the case of Riley v. California, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the warrantless search and seizure of a cell phone during an arrest is unconstitutional, though police use of Textalyzers would not necessarily occur in situations resulting in an arrest.
CPD has already bought technology from Cellebrite, having purchased the company’s Forensic Telephone Kit for $7,074.00 in 2009. The Textalyzer does not yet have an official price tag.
Texting While Driving: Troubling Statistics
Regardless of whether Textalyzers are cleared for law enforcement use in Chicago, recent studies suggest that texting while driving remains a pervasive danger on America’s roads.
Drawing upon polls conducted with more than 7,500 drivers from 2013 through 2016, Allstate Insurance found that nearly half of all drivers (48.4%) admitted to texting while driving either “Sometimes,” “Frequently,” or “Always,” making it a significant factor in distracted driving.
In its own 2017 study, Cambridge Mobile Telematics, a company that makes driving applications for auto insurance carriers, found that distracted driving occurred during 52 percent of motor vehicle crashes. Moreover, nearly a quarter of drivers were using cell phones within a minute before their crashes occurred.
Distracted driving is defined as any activity that takes a driver’s hands off the steering wheel, eyes off the road, or mind off of driving. Texting involves all three types of distractions, so it is among the worst forms of distracted driving.
The lack of attention caused by distracted driving can make a motorist miss critical objects and events on the road or abandon control of the vehicle, which can potentially result in a serious crash.
Distracted Driving Accident Lawyers
If you have been injured, in a distracted driving accident or in some other way, you may find that you could benefit from the guidance of the experienced and knowledgeable personal injury attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers. Please contact GWC today to schedule a free consultation with an attorney. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.