Like a Breathalyzer for Texting


A look at one of the more extreme ideas to combat technology-related driving distraction.

Because “radical change requires radical ideas,” according to the chief of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), officials are making a move to start treating texting while driving on par with drunk driving. Legislators and public health officials across the country are racking their brains, trying to figure out the most effective way to reduce distracted driving incidents and fatalities.

Perhaps the most extreme idea comes from The Empire State. In New York, lawmakers have suggested introducing something called the textalyzer, which is, you guessed it, a breathalyzer test for texting. Just as officers who pull people over for suspected drunk driving can administer breathalyzer tests, officers would be able to pull suspected texting drivers over and use a device to tap into their phone’s operating system to check for recent activity.

The phone testing device would search the phone to detect any activity that would be illegal for drivers under state law, including texting and using Facebook.

Refuse a textalyzer test? New York lawmakers want the penalty to mirror that of refusal to take a breathalyzer test – automatic license suspension. You can read more about the proposed legislation on the New York State Senate’s website.

The main opponents of laws like these are privacy advocates, who are concerned that textalyzer tests would constitute a violation of their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unlawful search and seizure. But officials are desperate, and seem as if they will do almost anything to mitigate distracted driving deaths.

Anti-texting advocates aren’t just stick wielders. Some prefer carrots, and believe that promoting attentive driving would be more effective than penalizing distracted driving. For example, the Center for Health Communication at Harvard’s School of Public Health is developing an ad campaign that will focus on attentiveness behind the wheel, and encourage parents to set a good example for their children.

Still, texting while driving is a dangerous game not played for long. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, distracted driving kills an average of eight people and injures over 1,000 others daily. In fact, your chances of being involved in a distracted driving collision is one in four. The statistics for drunk driving are even more troubling – an average of 28 people are killed in the U.S. every day due to an alcohol-impaired driver.

The common hope for those on both sides of the textalyzer debate is that, just like drunk driving fatalities, texting while driving fatalities would subside.