How Does the Textalyzer Work?

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Public service announcements are great for a shock factor but don’t do much to deter texting while driving. And considering people could be doing more than just texting — like taking a Snapchat or posting to Instagram — we clearly need a much stricter policy in place. Enter the “Textalyzer,” a device that could let police see if you were using your phone while driving after a car crash.

The Textalyzer, made by the company Cellebrite, is a device that plugs into your phone via a cord. After a crash, it could then show a police officer what apps were open on your phone and if you swiped or tapped. “For example, if it was a WhatsApp message or a call, it will indicate what the source was, the time stamp, and then what the direction of the communication was — so if it was an outgoing call versus an incoming call,” Lee Papathanasiou, an engineer at the company, told NPR.

States like New York are pushing through a bill that would let police use the Textalyzer; New Jersey and Tennessee are considering a similar bill as well. Some people want it to pass so that texting while driving can be treated just as seriously as drunk driving. “It’s dangerous, devastating, crippling, and it’s a killer, and still socially acceptable,” Candace Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said to The New York Times.

While Cellebrite says the device can’t download a phone’s content, privacy advocates are concerned. “Distracted driving is a serious concern, but this bill gives police power to take and search our phones after almost every fender-bender,” Rashida Richardson, legislative counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, told NPR.

According to the Department of Transportation, 3,196 fatal crashes in the US that happened in 2015 were due to distracted driving. Though the Textalyzer would prove useful (and would probably scare drivers into staying off their phones, knowing they could be subject to search after a crash), it begs an important question: why can’t drivers just stay off their phones while driving?

If the bill in New York fails to pass, there might be another way to keep drivers off their phones. Apple recently announced a Do Not Disturb While Driving feature coming in iOS 11 that would prevent notifications coming through. Instead, anyone who calls or texts you would receive a message that you’re currently driving. It would only be available on iPhones, but at least it’s a start to curb this dangerous practice.