(TNS) — In a bid to crack down on car crashes caused by people texting while driving, Chicago aldermen on Thursday discussed the concept of arming police with devices to tell how recently drivers had used their cellphones.
So-called “textalyzers” could allow officers to scan phones and tell whether they were in use at the time of an accident, Ald. Edward Burke said.
“In many ways it’s the digital equivalent of a Breathalyzer,” he said. While a handful of government agencies around the country are looking at incorporating textalyzer technology in police investigations, none has done so yet, he said.
The 14th Ward alderman, however, did not propose that the Chicago Police Department start using the devices, nor was a vote taken. Burke, the longest-tenured and most powerful alderman, sometimes holds hearings merely to discuss headline-grabbing ideas.
At any rate, the technology isn’t even ready yet. Jody Wacker, who works for Cellebrite, a company that’s developing the device, said it’s still being finalized, and it’s unclear how much each textalyzer would cost.
The textalyzer technology will be developed to comply with laws passed in various jurisdictions, Wacker said. The state of New York is currently studying the privacy implications of letting police use the devices, Wacker said.
The number of crashes due to distracted drivers — mainly people texting behind the wheel — continues to rise, particularly among teenage drivers, Burke said. Though Chicago outlaws texting while driving, it’s tough to prove a driver was doing so without a forensic check of the phone that a textalyzer can provide, Burke said.
And Ald. Anthony Beale said cellphone companies so far have not responded to aldermen calling for them to develop technology that would automatically shut off phones in moving cars so drivers can’t use them behind the wheel.
“A split second is all it takes to have an accident, some kind of catastrophe on our streets,” said Beale, 9th.
Ald. Chris Taliaferro, 29th, expressed concern about instances when drivers hand their phones to passengers to send messages. Textalyzers would shift the burden of proof to drivers to prove they weren’t using devices themselves at the time of crashes.
Burke has had cellphone safety on the brain lately. In November, he proposed fining pedestrians up to $500 for using cellphones while crossing the street. There’s no evidence the idea has gained traction so far with aldermen or Mayor Rahm Emanuel, however.
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