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'Textalyzers' uld be used to catch distracted drivers

Police could soon use a "textalyzer" to check whether drivers involved in crashes were distracted by their mobile phone.

The idea to adopt the technology has been proposed by New York State senator Terrance Murphy, who has published potential legislation to hold drivers to account.

Under the planned law drivers involved in accidents would have their phones tested by police using a "textalyzer", Murphy explained. The law enforcement officers would be able to see when a phone had been used but not conversations, phone numbers, photos or any information on the device.

"Empowering our law enforcement with technology, which is able to immediately determine cell phone usage without an inquiry into the content, will allow enforcement of these laws after an accident while still protecting essential privacy rights," the draft-legislation reads.

Failure or refusal to hand over a device would result in the "revocation of the driver's license or permit." Police officers would also be able to assume that the driver was using their phone at the time of the incident. If the driver does refuse a warrant could be obtained by the police.

The technology required is being developed by Israeli security company Cellebrite – the same company believed to have helped the FBI unlock the iPhone 5C of the San Bernardino terrorist Syed Farook. The company already has working technology that would be able to examine a phone at the side of the road.

"With basic mobile forensic knowledge and minimal training, field professionals can perform mobile device examinations, in real time, as part of their daily operations," the company's website claims.

Any device developed for use in the US would likely have limited features to help protect user privacy – otherwise it may not satisfy a person's Fourth Amendment rights. 

The legislation has been developed to try and protect drivers from accidents and prevent the amount of crashes caused by mobile phone distractions.

Murphy developed the law with the campaigning organisation Distracted Operators Risk Casualties, which argued drivers using their phones should be held accountable in the same way that drunk drivers are.

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