Victorian Police has voiced interest in experimental new ‘textalyser’ technology that will allow authorities to check whether a driver has been using a mobile phone while driving.
The so-called textalysers, a name inspired by breathalyser systems, are able to analyse metadata to determine whether someone was using their mobile phone at a specific time - while driving, for example.
First reports of the new technology surfaced back in 2014, and the recent launch of a production version has moved New York City authorities to begin pushing legislation to allow police to implement the technology.
This week, Victoria Police has flagged the technology for potential operational use, in response to the thousands of distracted drivers that text or use social media while driving.
Data provided by Victoria Police shows that more than 34,000 infringement notices were issued last year to distracted drivers using mobile phones behind the wheel.
A recent study quoted by Queensland’s Centre for Accident Research and Road Safety (CARRS-Q) claims that just having a conversation on the phone while driving quadruples the chances of having an accident.
It’s no secret that using a mobile phone while driving can be dangerous, and Victoria Police are determined to try any means to help bring the state’s road toll down to zero.
“We are interested in anything that could support us in our road to zero lives lost on Victorian roads… (and) constantly assessing technologies from all over the world to advance our road policing efforts” said Acting Superintendent Stuart McGregor.
“It’s still alarming to see that more than 34,000 people think it’s okay to put the lives of others at risk just to check their phones [while driving].”
“Driving is a serious task and should be treated as such. You’re in charge of more than a tonne of metal and if you divert your attention for even a split second; it could have fatal consequences,” McGregor added.
Current punishments for motorists who are caught texting and driving include fines of $455 and the loss of four demerit points.
The model proposed by New York authorities involves the analysis of a mobile device’s metadata after a road incident to determine whether the device had been used in the lead up to the event.
Privacy laws are slowing progress of the proposed new legislation, although Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces the technology, claims that the textalyser system doesn’t have the ability to read the content of text messages and social media updates, but rather to determine whether the device was used at a certain time to send text messages.
However, Australia's new metadata retention laws, which allow for the time and basic surface details of every message sent to be stored and made available to law enforcement agencies, could speed the technology's introduction here.
Victoria Police Superintendent McGregor stressed how important it is that younger drivers - particularly L- and P-platers - focus their full attention on driving, rather than texting a mate while behind the wheel.
“Obviously that age group is already of particular concern to us, purely due to their inexperience on the roads,” he said.
“When you’re learning how to drive or driving on your own for the first time, it is essential to devote your full attention to the task at hand.”
“No text message or social media update is more important than getting to your destination safely,” McGregor added.
Other organisations, including automotive industry representative group the Victorian Automotive Chamber of Commerce (VACC), have also come out in support of any methods police can use to help make public roads safer.
“[The] VACC believes strongly in making commuting on public roads as safe as possible,” said David Dowsey, spokesperson for the VACC.
“Like with drink-driving, as soon as society can make activities like texting while driving unacceptable, the better off all road users will be. If people are going to make phone calls they should use approved hands-free devices.”
“Technology solutions such as the breathalysers have been used with great success by police forces across the country. The ‘textalyser’ may be the next vanguard in road safety in Australia,” Dowsey added.
While not confirmed yet for local introduction, Victoria Police has said it will continue to investigate the technology's potential.
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