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State lawmakers tackle distracted driving

The most severe penalty a driver can face in South Carolina for texting behind the wheel is a $25 fine. An epidemic of cellphone use by motorists and a worrying rise in distracted driving accidents have prompted many lawmakers in Columbia to back a bill that would sharply increase this penalty and introduce the new law of driving while under the influence of an electronic device. That bill was read on Jan. 8 and is now being scrutinized by a House committee, but lawmakers in Nevada are taking a different approach.

The penalties for distracted driving are only applied when motorists are caught, but, unlike drunk driving, distraction leaves no obvious clues for police officers. Nevada lawmakers are considering addressing this law enforcement impediment by issuing peace officers with innovative new devices. Textalyzers plug into cellphones and reveal how the devices were used during the previous few minutes.

Civil rights groups oppose the use of textalyzers and say that the devices infringe on rights guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment, and lawmakers in New York cited these arguments when rejecting a bill authorizing their use in 2018. However, the Israeli technology company behind the textalyzer claim that the devices access no personal data when they scan cellphones. While many police departments have shown interest in the technology, there are currently no federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies using the devices.

The kind of information accessed by textalyzers could be useful to personal injury attorneys representing plaintiffs in car accident lawsuits. Cellphone or internet usage data could reveal that a motorist was likely distracted at the time of the collision, and attorneys could seek to view these records by using a subpoena when they are not turned over voluntarily by defendants.

Source: WIS News 10, “Proposed ‘DUI-E’ bill makes next steps in SC Statehouse”, Tanita Gaither, Jan. 30, 2019

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