COBB COUNTY, Ga. — It happens every day: 9 people are killed and 1,000 more are injured in crashes involving a distracted driver.
Those crusading against distracted driving believe new technology can help catch violators who crash.
A new device can help police confirm right at the crash site whether a driver's been texting. It's like a breathalyzer for your phone and it's raising questions about safety vs. privacy.
Consumer Investigator Jim Strickland spoke to the family of Emily Clark, one of five nursing students killed in on Interstate 16 in 2015.
There is one question that lingers for Clark's family.
“What happened with my sister? We wanted to see what he was doing and he wouldn't admit to anything,” said Haily Clark.
Truck driver John Wayne Johnson admitted that earlier in his trip he'd been driving while messaging on his smart phone. But not when he crashed into the girls' car.
Jim Grady, the CEO of forensic technology maker Cellebrite, which is the developer of the Textalyzer, said his device could be a game-changer.
“It is just the kind of hard evidence prosecutors need to make such a case,” Grady said. “The device reveals if and when a phone was active. It would show that they were on the phone just before the crash.”
Strickland traveled to New Jersey, where Cellebrite is located, to see the Textalyzer in action. Channel 2's photographer Justin Crate drove a car while Strickland did what distracted drivers do: looking at his phone and using apps, even some that don't show up on phone records.
The Textalyzer displayed a log with Strickland’s every move.
But the Textalyzer's similarities to the breathalyzer go beyond just the name.
“There will be consequences similar to a breathalyzer when you refuse it, which may include losing your license,” said Marietta defense attorney Lisa Wells. “This is a slippery slope.”
Wells said getting a phone's history ought to require a warrant.
“There's better ways to deter people from texting and driving without invading their Fourth Amendment protections,” Wells said.
Tennessee State Senator Lee Harris said the technology reveals only so much information.
“The technology doesn’t tell you the content of your text or email or Facebook post, it only tells you if the phone was in use,” Harris said.
Harris, a legal scholar with a Yale law degree, wrote a bill to legalize the Textalyzer after the 2016 deaths of six children in a Chattanooga school bus crash.
“We’ve got to give officers the tools to catch these people, and if officers have tools to catch these people, it will deter this kind of misbehavior,” Harris said.
Right now, Marietta police can only charge drivers if they catch them in the act.
But Georgia Congressman John Carson, who heads the study committee on distracted driving, said he's not ruling out the Textalyzer.
“I wish that our existing ‘no texting’ laws were working but they're simply not,” Carson said. “When it comes to saving lives and reducing the crashes and reducing auto insurance premiums for Georgians, I would say most things are on the table.”
The device has the backing of a Clark speaking in her sister's memory
“But I think it's a great thing because they would actually show us how much this is happening and maybe enforce the law more,” Clark said.
As of now, the Textalyzer is only a prototype. The manufacturer said once the first state legalizes it, the company will go into production and other states will likely follow.
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