A proposed bill now in committee in the New York State Senate could give NY police officers the ability to plug smartphones into a ‘textalyzer’ following a motor vehicle accident. The device would read data from the phone to determine whether or not the driver had been texting or otherwise using the phone at the time of the crash.

ArsTechnica reports that Cellebrite, the Israeli company believed to have cracked the San Bernardino iPhone, is developing the technology required for the checks. Such checks without a warrant would normally violate the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, but Cellebrite believes it has a solution to that …

The textalyzer allegedly would keep conversations, contacts, numbers, photos, and application data private. It will solely say whether the phone was in use prior to a motor-vehicle mishap. Further analysis, which might require a warrant, could be necessary to determine whether such usage was via hands-free dashboard technology and to confirm the original finding.

The proposed law has been dubbed ‘Evan’s Law’ after lobbying by the father of 19-year-old Evan Lieberman, who was killed by a distracted driver in New York. It would mean that drivers would, by default, consent to the check of their phones. Any who refused would have their driver’s license suspended with immediate effect.

Cellebrite already offers a roadside device which allows access to the contents of unspecified models of smartphones, and indicates that the ‘textalyzer’ would be a less intrusive version which merely gives a yes/no answer as to whether or not the phone was in use at the time.

Using a smartphone while driving is a growing cause of crashes, especially among teenagers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that nine people a day are killed in distracted driving crashes, while a further 1,153 are injured.

An AAA road safety campaign on the issue last year shows real videos of teenage car crashes caused by smartphone use. In Britain, the government showed an extremely hard-hitting video aimed to show teenagers the dangers of texting while driving – something I’d recommend every parent have their teenage kids watch when they first start driving.

But while the cause may be good, Apple is unlikely to look kindly on the technology. Which iPhones the device will work with, and how long the vulnerability will remain, are key questions here.

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