Could The Textalyzer Save Lives?

Posted: Sep 2 2016, 2:35pm CDT | by , in News | Latest Political News


Could the Textalyzer Save Lives?
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Bob Lieberman had to deal with something that no parents should have to deal with - his son Evan was killed in a car accident. The father was determined to get the phone records of the driver who hit him.

"People thought I was crazy, and it was like, 'What are you trying to prove here?'" said Lieberman, of Chappaqua, New York, to CNN.

Evan was a freshman in college. He did everything right: he wore his seat belt, he was sitting in the back seat. The driver, Evan's friend, said that he fell asleep, but Lieberman didn't think that everything in the story added up. For one, the boys were on their way to work during rush hour in the middle of the day.

Lieberman learned that the driver was texting throughout his drive and minutes before the crash - but police never checked his phone. He did lose his license for a year and settled a civil suit with the family, but he was never criminally charged.

"Once I got the phone records subpoenaed, I was amazed that the phone was sitting in the car for weeks in a junkyard, and they never looked at it," said Lieberman. Through his plight, he started the Distracted Operators Risk Casualties organization. "At first, I thought it was a faulty police investigation," Lieberman said. "What I realized, it's not the case. There's no protocol in place."

If someone were to run a red light and hit you, police officers will often suspect drunk driving and "there is a mechanism right then right there" to prove it, said Lieberman. A Breathalyzer test is a trust test to check the level of alcohol in a person's bloodstream. 

"That basically identifies the problem and holds that person accountable," Lieberman said.

Up until now, police had to use eye-witness testimonies to get the story and then they can subpoena the phone records. Those records only show texting - not looking at apps or checking Facebook. So he thought maybe there should be a similar test for texting.

Lieberman partnered with mobile forensics company Cellebrite to help in these situations. It would have to work for officers and it would have to be fairly quick.

"Can we do this in a way to meticulously respect privacy and at the same time give an honest and efficient evaluation?" Lieberman asked executives. "We want a balance of interests. We don't want to be invading anybody's privacy, but you know, you don't want to feel like you're driving on land mines every time you leave your house."

Jim Grady, the CEO of Cellebrite Inc. Americas said that they immediately knew they wanted to help with this new project.

Texting while driving "is a real problem for society," Grady said. "I've got kids, and I don't want my kids to be doing this when they drive. I don't want them to be victims of someone else's driving." He then said, "We think it's an important problem and that we can help, and that's why we exist, right, to solve big hard problems that are important and that we have the ability to chase."

With this new technology, and officer would connect a person's phone to a laptop (usually, cop cars are outfitted with them) that would then provide information about when the phone was last touched.

"We're specifically designing it to protect the privacy of the user," Grady said, "so it's particularly important not to say who you were texting or what you said in those texts, but instead just the evidence that you were texting and specifically, things like ... the way you hit the keyboard and the frequency."

Last winter, Evan's law was introduced to New York State government and it is now making its way through committees. This law would give police the authority to use a Textalyzer. If signed, it will be the first of its kind.

"We have optimism that we can do this, but there are certainly roadblocks, and new ideas don't necessarily always get met with the most open minds all the time," Lieberman said. One of the biggest roadblocks will be privacy concerns.

Just like the Breathalyzer didn't end drunk driving, the Textalyzer won't end distracted driving. However, if even one life is saved, it will be worth it.

"Once people understood the issue better and people were held accountable and you knew people who lost their licenses ... and you knew people who were injured because of" drinking and driving, "that brought a whole different level of urgency to that whole issue," Lieberman said.

According to CNN, "46 states along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands have laws banning texting and driving. Fourteen states, along with D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands, make it a crime to use a handheld device while driving."

Still, there are more and more people texting, reading, talking, or catching Pokemon as they drive.

"The stigma's not there because we don't understand what this can do to us," Lieberman said. "Right now, there's a feeling like, 'Yeah, this looks bad, but it's not going to happen to me.' People don't understand that this is actually happening ... and we believe the reason is because it's so under-reported."

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/46" rel="author">Noel Diem</a>
Noel passion is to write about geek culture.




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