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New York Eyes 'Textalyzer' To Combat Distracted Driving

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- New York lawmakers are considering legislation that would allow police to a use a "textalyzer" to determine if a driver had been using a mobile device in the moments before a crash.

Ben Lieberman, who has been an advocate against distracted driving since losing his 19 year-old-son Evan in a car crash six years ago, is partnering with the Israel-based tech company Cellebrite to develop the plug-in device.

"The device will detect swiping and typing, but doesn't even have the capabilities to get personal content, not even if it wanted to," Lieberman said last month.

But the idea already faces obstacles from constitutional and privacy advocates who are quick to note that police need the owner's consent and a warrant to get cellphone records. They're also concerned such technology would be used to access all of the personal information people may have on their cellphones.

"There's no guarantee a device like that would be able to scan a phone without collecting private information on one's phone and there is also no way to ensure accuracy," Rashida Richardson of the New York Civil Liberties Union said.

At least 46 states have laws barring texting while driving and 14 ban all hand-held devices, but some safety advocates say more needs to be done to enforce the laws.

Deborah Hersman, the CEO of the National Safety Council and a supporter of the "textalyzer" legislation, noted that in 2016, 40,000 people died on the road, a 14 percent jump from 2014 and the biggest two-year jump in 50 years.

"There can't be a more compelling reason than life or death for saying why we should have access to this information," Hersman said.

Cellebrite said its technology, which is about nine months away from being finished, sidesteps privacy concerns because it's designed only to determine usage, not access data. Company officials said the device would only be able to tell if someone physically clicked or swiped the phone during the time of the accident, and then investigators could use that to determine if they should get a warrant for more detailed information.

"For this device, the whole purpose is not to get any data," said Jim Grady, the chief executive officer of Cellebrite USA. "So no, police won't be able to, unless they rewrite our code."

Under the bill, which has been approved in one Senate committee and is pending in another, a person would not be criminalized for refusing to have their phone checked, but they could get their license suspended. The idea is that a person implies consent to drive without distractions when they receive a license, said Jay Shapiro, a New York attorney and former deputy district attorney.

Sponsors say they expect the Republican-led Senate to approve the bill, but anticipate opposition from the Democratic-led Assembly.

If the bill passes, New York would become the first state to use such technology. Similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey, Tennessee and Illinois.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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