New texting gun aims to make roads safer

There is a lot of rhetoric surrounding texting while driving and the effects it can potentially have on the lives of those involved in the act. Whether it be from commercials that show possible consequences of texting while driving, friends, family or acquaintances giving advice not to text and drive or an incident with personal experience, texting while driving has been highly frowned upon and is now commonly illegal.

If you can’t relate to any of these statements or stories, let me put it in perspective: A study found that the minimum amount of time your attention is away from the road while texting and driving is five seconds. If you are going 55 mph, you have driven the length of a football field not paying attention to the road. A bit scary, in my opinion, yet 77 percent of young adults are at least somewhat confident that they can safely text while driving (Texting and Driving Safely, Texting and Driving Statistics, 2014).

Why do so many young adults feel confident in their ability? My guess is that they have texted a few times and nothing bad has happened—so, logically, they can text and drive with no issues.

In high school, I had a friend who was pulling out of our high school campus onto the main road, and she was hit by another high school student going 70 in a 35 zone. The student who caused the accident was texting about going to the mall later in the day after school. My friend was hospitalized with a severe neck injury and had a totaled car. This was the first accident of the texter, who I assume was confident texting while driving. Another fun statistic for you: Texting while driving makes it 23 times more likely you will crash (Texting and Driving Safely, Texting and Driving Statistics, 2014).

Texting while driving is currently illegal in 44 states, and, in New York, it is illegal to talk on the phone or text while driving (NCSL, “Cellular Phone Use and Texting While Driving Laws,” 6.30.14). Recently, to combat this act, the state of New York has put up signs for texting rest areas, which act as regular rest areas, but have specific signage to indicate that there will be an upcoming area where people can stop and text. Yet, even with these laws and our knowledge on the dangers of texting while driving, it is still a common event.

Detecting texters can be difficult for police officers, but ComSonics, a Virginia-based company, has a new creation that may allow for easier detection: radar technology. ComSonics has recently designed a detector gun, the Sniffer Sleuth II (SSII). The SSII can detect very specific cellular frequencies, including when someone is in the middle of sending a text (Daily Mail, “The ‘texting gun’ that stops drivers using their mobile behind the wheel,” 9.19.14).

But wait. At first, this seems totally crazy! If I am driving and a friend is sitting in the passenger seat texting, am I going to get a ticket for texting because the SSII will detect the frequency of my cell phone? What about privacy? Will law enforcement be able to read my texts? Are officers already using these devices in the streets?

Malcolm McIntyre, a spokesman for the company that created these devices, has made it clear in a statement that ComSonics is aware of privacy concerns and that the SSII cannot access content of any texts or data from cellular devices and that the SSII can simply distinguish between the different frequencies a phone sends out for texting vs. calling vs. using mobile data, such as for searching the Internet (The Independent, “‘Texting Gun’ could help law enforcement,” 9.22.14).

Continuing on that statement, ComSonics had said that the device can actually figure out which person in the car is using the cell phone that is detected, but there was no clear explanation on how this technology works (Daily Mail, “The ‘texting gun’ that stops drivers using their mobile behind the wheel,” 9.19.14).

While the device is not currently in use by law enforcement, McIntyre says that production will hopefully be happening sooner than later. ComSonics is currently smoothing over some of the legal issues that have been circulating, particularly around privacy concerns and ensuring that content of cell phones cannot be accessed. Even though McIntyre has stated content is safe, many are still doubtful and fearful of this upcoming device. Currently, ComSonics is having lawyers test out the SSII to try and make it clear that, legally, this device is sound (CNET, “Police radar gun that shows if you’re texting?,” 9.17.14).

I am very intrigued to find out more about the SSII and the technology that helped create it: It all sounds cool in theory, but the company is being very vague about how the device actually works. I am still very curious about how this device is able to detect which person in the car is using a cellular device, especially when the car is traveling at high speeds. But, even with my curiosities and small doubts about privacy concerns, I am very against texting and driving, as it can cause serious and life-changing damage to those involved. If this new type of technology helps us reduce the number of people who, even with strict laws set in place, still text and drive despite the obvious risks, I am all for it.

—Delaney Fisher ’15 is a neuroscience major

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