Compliance Management, Privacy

Updated: N.Y. bill would compel drivers involved in accidents to hand over phones to police

In an attempt to determine if a car accident was caused by illegal texting and driving two New York State politicians have introduced a bill that would require drivers involved in an accident to immediately turn over their phone to police who would then check it to see if it was in use when the incident happened.

Refusal to do so would result in an immediate suspension of the person's license.

The bill, S6325A, dubbed Evan's Law, was  introduced by N.Y. State Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Westchester) and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Kings) and would allow the use of a device called Textalyzer, developed by the Israeli firm Cellebrite of FBI-Apple fame, to immediately determine if the driver's phone was in use when the accident happened.

The law is named after Evan Lieberman who was killed by a distracted driver in 2011.

“The purpose of this bill is to increase enforcement of existing prohibitions on the use of mobile telephones and/or personal electronic devices while driving through the creation of a field test that law enforcement may conduct at the scene of the accident,” the proposed legislation stated.

Murphy said textalyzer can only tell if the phone was in use and would not have access to the device's conversations, contacts, numbers, photos, and data private.

"Respecting drivers' personal privacy, however, is also important, and we are taking meticulous steps to not violate those rights," Murphy said in a written statement.

If passed, the bill would make sweeping changes to the state's vehicle and traffic law compelling drivers to hand over their phones with any refusal to do so resulting in the immediate suspension of their license.

“Subdivision 2 of section six establishes that every person operating a motor vehicle that has been involved in an accident or collision involving damage to real or personal property, personal injury or death, and who has in his or her possession at or near the time of such accident or collision a mobile telephone or personal electronic device must submit, at the request of the police officer, his or her mobile telephone or personal electronic device to the police officer solely for the purpose of field testing such device,” the bill stated.

Any driver refusing to hand over the device will have his or her driving privilege immediately suspended. In addition, such refusal would establish grounds for the police officer to believe the driver was, in fact, using their device when the accident took place.

This requirement mirrors what is required if the police believe a person involved in an accident is inebriated.

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director, Donna Lieberman said that while keeping a cap on texting and driving is extremely important the proposed law is flawed.

“Distracted driving is a serious public safety concern, but this bill is ill-conceived and misguided, and fraught with legal and practical problems. This proposal appears likely to impute suspicion and guilt for a wide range of lawful activity, and to invite cops to seize phones without justification or a warrant. There are existing legal channels for law enforcement to access a phone or phone records if they have grounds to suspect distracted driving has occurred, rather than field-testing every fender bender," she told in an email Monday.

The bill is currently being reviewed by the state Finance Committee.

A request by to Murphy for additional comment had not been answered by press time.

Updated with a quote from Donna Lieberman.

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