A bill being considered in Albany would require all drivers involved in collisions to let cops scan their cell phones to determine if they were using their devices before the crash. And if they refuse, their licenses would be subject to automatic suspension.
State Senator Terrence Murphy (R-Westchester) and Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) announced the legislation last week. It's called Evan's Law, after Evan Lieberman, who was killed by a distracted driver in 2011. If passed, the law would empower police to use technology developed by the Israeli firm Cellebrite (the company recently hired by the FBI to unlock the San Bernadino shooter's iPhone) to detect whether or not the device was being used around the time of a crash.
The bill's supporters argue that it would go a long way toward strengthening New York's distracted driving laws. "The general public knows distracted driving is a problem, but if people knew the extent of the damage caused by this behavior, they would be amazed," says Ben Lieberman, whose 19-year-old son Evan was killed by a distracted driver. "With our current laws, we're not getting accurate information because the issue is not being addressed at the heart of the problem—with the people causing the collisions."
Advocates for the technology insist it does not violate drivers' personal privacy, because it merely scans whether the device has been in use, and does not grant cops access to any content, keeping conversations, contacts, numbers, photos, and application data private.
But civil liberties groups are wary. “Distracted driving is a serious public safety concern, but this bill is ill-conceived and misguided, and fraught with legal and practical problems," said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman in a statement. "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."
It's unclear if the legislation has enough support to pass the Senate and Assembly, but Governor Cuomo, who has pushed for tougher distracted driving laws, will likely sign it into law if it does.