BUFFALO, N.Y. -- There is growing support in Albany for New York to become the first state in the nation to legalize the use of a so-called "textalyzer" machine in order to combat the growing problem of distracted driving.
As many as 10,000 Americans were killed last year in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to the National Safety Council.
In the same way a breathalyzer tells if a driver is drunk, some lawmakers say the "textalyzer" device could tell if a driver was using his or her phone while behind the wheel.
State Senator Mike Ranzenhofer, a Republican from Amherst, is a co-sponsor of the bill to legalize the "textalyzer". He told 2 On Your Side he believes the measure could pass in the legislature before the end of this session next month.
The bill would allow law enforcement to seize the phones of all drivers at the scene of a crash in order to connect them to the "textalyzer". A drivers who refuses could lose his or her license.
Ranzenhofer says the machine would not scan the contents on the phone.
"If the device was trolling through your information, I would not be in support of it," Ranzenhofer said.
Instead, he claims the device would only determine whether or not a phone was in use at the time of a crash.
Defense attorney Barry Covert, a 2 On Your Side legal analyst, said the proposal would violate the U.S. Constitution in addition to state protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
"This legislation, as noble a cause as it is, because distracted driving is incredibly dangerous, is too burdensome on individual freedoms and rights," Covert said.
Unlike when an officer administers a breathalyzer -- which requires law enforcement have have reasonable suspicion -- the "textalyzer" proposal would allow officers to inspect all drivers' phones at a crash scene, whether a fender bender or a deadly accident.
"There has to be some evidence that that individual that the officer took the phone from did something wrong first," Covert argued.
Deborah Hersman, a former NTSB chairwoman who is now president and chief executive officer for the National Safety Council, supports "textalyzer" legalization.
"No one likes a driver who is texting," Hersman said. "What we've got to do is get to a point where we have a strong enough deterrent to keep people from doing it."
Hersman predicted if New York passes this bill, use of the "textalyzer" would sweep the country.
In March, the "textalyzer" bill unanimously passed in the State Senate Transportation Committee, although more than a half dozen members were not included in the 12-0 tally because they voted "aye without recommendation", meaning they had some reservations.
The proposal enjoys bi-partisan support with Republicans and Democrats backing the bill in both the Senate and the Assembly.
2 On Your Side will continue to update this bill as it proceeds through the legislative process.
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