Chicago may become the first U.S. city to arm its police officers with devices that will tell them immediately if motorists were texting when they got into a traffic accident, the Associated Press reports. After hearing from a father whose son was killed in a traffic accident in which the driver was texting, as well as a company that developed a prototype of the “Textalyzer,” the City Council’s public safety committee voted Thursday to request that the police department study the hand-held devices. Several states are considering equipping law enforcement officials with the devices, including New York, New Jersey and Tennessee. Alderman Edward Burke said Chicago would be the first U.S. city to do so. “The problem of distracted driving is only getting worse,” said Burke, who pointed to statistics that show the number of people killed in traffic accidents jumped 14 percent between 2014 and 2016 as evidence of the toll distracted driving is taking. “This is a public health crisis.”
The vote was taken after Ben Lieberman, who became the face of the push for the devices after his 19-year-old son was killed in 2011, spoke of his son’s death and his own discovery that not only is texting while driving rampant, it is all but impossible to investigate and laws prohibiting distracted driving are rarely enforced. Burke suggested the problem of enforcement is acute in Chicago. The number of tickets city police officers issued to motorists using mobile devices plummeted from 26,000 in 2015 to fewer than 200 in 2016. That’s when the police department started requiring officers who issue such violations to appear in traffic court. One hurdle that must be overcome before officers will be handed the devices is whether law enforcement has the right to simply pull such information from someone’s cellphone.