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Spurred By Westchester Teen Death, Crash Investigations May Get Textalyzers

Evan Lieberman, 19, of Chappaqua died in a June, 2011 distracted driving accident.
Evan Lieberman, 19, of Chappaqua died in a June, 2011 distracted driving accident. Photo Credit: Contributed
Senator Terrance Murphy and others are working to pass legislation that would help prevent distracted driving.
Senator Terrance Murphy and others are working to pass legislation that would help prevent distracted driving. Photo Credit: Contributed

State Sen. Terrance Murphy might have the answer to stop drivers from texting and snapping photos while driving, causing hundreds of deaths each year, including that of Evan Lieberman, a New Castle teen who lost his life due to a distracted driving accident in Westchester County.

Murphy, who represents much of Northern Westchester and parts of Putnam County, has introduced legislation that, much like instances of drunk driving and the use of a Breathalyzer, would provide police officers with a Textalyzer to use in order to determine if distracted driving was the cause of a motor vehicle crash.

Here's how it would work: Following a serious crash in which someone was killed or seriously injured, the responding officers would ask for the driver's phones and then use the computer-generated program to tap into the phone's operating system to check for all recent activity.

Titled Evan’s Law, after Lieberman, the bill would be the first in the nation to receive legislative approval and may be hard to pass with protests by privacy advocates.

“We need to keep our hands off the phone and on the wheel,” Murphy said. “Statistics are showing we are having more distracted driving accidents than drunk driving because they did a really good job of making a platform for all of us to be aware. Well, this is the next step.”

Most law enforcement officials say the privacy concern is mute because the technology would only determine whether a driver had used the phone to do anything that is forbidden under the state's hands-free driving laws.

Under the legislation, failure to hand over a phone could lead to charges similar to refusing a Breathalyzer.

“At the end of the day this is about saving lives,” Murphy added. “This is a bipartisan effort in order to do the right thing for our communities and for New York State.”

The co-sponsor of the bill, Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix Ortiz said the proposed law carefully borrows from what makes a Breathalyzer legal and constitutional.

"All fifty states have implemented sobriety tests based on the legal principle of implied consent where drivers agree to sobriety test or lose driving privileges," he said. "The distracted driving impairment is equal to the drinking impairment and needs to be dealt with in a similar manner.”

Murphy and Ortiz are currently working to garner support for the bill in hopes of getting it passed.

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