A new road safety bill in New York could soon allow police officers to scan a driver's mobile device to assess whether it was used prior to an accident.
The bill highlights the dangers brought by distracted driving and supports the claim by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that texting while driving is more dangerous compared to drunk driving by up to six times.
"Distracted driving is the leading cause of accidents among young drivers, and has led to a significant increase in overall accidents among drivers of all ages," says the New York State Assembly.
"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that every day in this country nine people are killed, and more than 1,153 are injured, in accidents involving a distracted driver. This roughly equates to one in five accidents per year caused by distracted driving, and the problem only continues to escalate."
The bill proposes that all drivers in New York should allow the police to digitally scan their mobile devices after being involved in a collision using a technology called textalyzer. The method is akin to the breathalyzer that is used for testing on whether the driver is intoxicated while behind the wheel.
The textalyzer aims to determine whether drivers involved in road collisions were communicating at the time of the accident. Drivers who would fail the test would be implicated with distracted driving charges and will be potentially held liable as a result of the crash.
"This bill provides law enforcement with a long overdue mechanism to evaluate cell phone use at the scene of an accident," says the state assembly. "It authorizes the use of available technology, which directly connects to the mobile device to determine whether it was in use at the time of the accident or immediately prior to its occurrence."
The new bill will be formally called "Evan's Law" in memory of a 19-year-old college student who died in a fatal accident in 2011, involving a distracted driver. It is being advocated by Ben Lieberman, father of the victim, who leads the awareness group Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs).
Critics of the bill are arguing that it may violate the driver's privacy as the police may also collect personal data such as contacts, emails and messages when they scan mobile devices.
The bill also states that refusing to hand over one's mobile device for the purpose of field testing will lead to a revocation of the person's driver's license.
While there is no exact date for the bill's official implementation, it is expected to take effect immediately. Sections three, four and five are scheduled to take effect two years later when the act is signed into law.