Drivers who text while behind the wheel in North Carolina can be fined $100, but they are assessed no driver’s license points and face no auto insurance surcharges. Road safety advocates say that penalties like this do little to deter behavior that is thought to be a major factor in surging traffic accident fatalities. Figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration suggest that distracted driving accidents claimed 3,450 lives in 2016, but advocacy groups believe that the problem is underreported and the true death toll is actually much higher.

The reason that distraction may be underreported is because the behavior leaves no obvious clues for law enforcement. Lawmakers in Nevada are debating whether a device known as a textalyzer could provide such evidence. The device plugs into a cellphone and reveals whether a driver was swiping or typing when they crashed.

The Israeli company behind the textalyzer says the device does not access or gather any sensitive personal information, but this assurance does not impress groups like the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2017, a similar bill to the one being discussed in Nevada was rejected by lawmakers in New York due largely to concerns over privacy. A modified version of that legislation is now being debated. No police departments currently use the technology.

The kind of data accessed by the textalyzer often plays an important role in motor vehicle accident litigation when distraction may have played a role. When the defendants in these lawsuits are unwilling to turn over their wireless service records, experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to obtain them with a subpoena. Other evidence that might lead a jury to believe a driver was distracted includes information stored on automobile black boxes revealing that they took no evasive action.

Source: North Carolina Legislature, § 20-137.4A. Unlawful use of mobile telephone for text messaging or electronic mail.