Every day in America, nine people are killed in automobile accidents because of distracted driving. Most often, a cell phone caused the distraction, usually because the driver is staring at a screen instead of the road. Just sending a text takes a driver's attention off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, studies have shown, which is almost three seconds longer than a driver can safely look away from the road. In many states, a driver can text while still but as soon as the vehicle is in motion, texting becomes a moving violation.
"Police can often ask questions to determine if the driver was texting," says attorney Robert May. "But many drivers will simply deny it. At that point, it's the driver's word against the victim's."
While most states have passed laws prohibiting texting behind the wheel, 47 percent of adults and 34 percent of teens admit to sending or receiving a text while driving. Proving that distracted driving was the cause of an accident can be tricky, even when the other driver personally witnessed the behavior.
Technology Steps In
New technology may make it trickier than ever for the many people who text and drive. An app from mobile data technology company Cellebrite will give law enforcement the ability to trace a driver's activities in the minutes preceding an accident. Cellebrite is a respected leader in mobile forensics, with some experts initially believing it was the company that helped the FBI break into the phone of the San Bernardino shooter.
According to Cellebrite documentation, the Textalyzer will be able to, "extract and decode mobile device data such as call logs, contacts, calendar, text messages, media files and more." Officers will be able to connect a device to a driver's cellphone, reading its device to determine what was happening in the moments before the crash. Currently, police must request records from a driver's cellular provider to track the minutes before a crash. This normally isn't done unless the accident resulted in serious injury or death.
New Proposed Laws
However, convincing a driver to hand over a mobile device can be tricky without laws permitting police to do so. Unless something is in place that permits the technology, any gathered information might not hold up in court. Fortunately, states are beginning to take notice and one state, New York, is on the verge of passing a law that would give police permission to use the Textalyzer.
If passed, the law may have serious repercussions for those who text and drive. If an accident happens, not only might the officer write a ticket for the violation, but the driver could find the information used as part of a personal injury lawsuit. Once a law has been passed in one state, other states could soon follow.
The Burden of Proof
For accident victims, there still may be a burden-of-proof issue when it comes to the data found on a driver's cell phone. An officer may find, for instance, that the last text went through just seconds before the collision, but proving the time the collision happened may be difficult. The software also won't be able to detect whether or not the driver was reading a text at the time the accident happened, only that one came through or was sent at a specific time. Still, it's a start.
One way drivers may be able to establish an accident timeframe is through the use of photos. Most smartphones time- and date-stamp photos, so a driver who took photos of the damage could establish an earlier time than the other driver was claiming.
Some consumers are against the devices, believing that having their smartphones investigated is a violation of privacy. The biggest concern, however, is how these privacy violations will be seen in court. Additionally, some experts believe in the early stages, attorneys may question the reliability of these machines, just as they did in the early days of Breathalyzer tests.
Although technology likely will never completely stop texting and driving, as drivers learn that law enforcement has these tools available, they may begin to curb those behaviors. If simply knowing about the repercussions can even reduce distracted driving by small amounts, consumers everywhere will be safer.