America's battle against those who text behind the wheel has put the nation's law enforcers in a tough spot. Most drivers were buckling up by the time the lack of a seat belt alone became enough for a stop in many states; police now have to discern not just if a driver's holding a phone, but what's on a few inches of screen from a moving vehicle, since texting is illegal but using maps and the phone itself is not. Shoudn't there be technology that makes it as easy to catch texters as it is to catch speeders?
If a Virginia firm has its way, there will be soon.
According to the Richmond Virginian-Pilot, a firm known as ComSonics has revealed it's working on a radar-gun like device that would sense the unique frequencies emitted by cellphones when sending texts. This idea fits in with the rest of ComSonics' product line in the radio-frequency detection business; among its products are the pistol-like devices cable companies use to scan for houses stealing ESPN.
A ComSonics executive said the frequencies used by texting were different enough from those used in calling and data downloads to make them distinctive and detectable. He added that while ComSonics devices were close to production, many barriers remained, including testing with law enforcement.
How to enforce such laws lies at the heart of the questions that still linger over whether such bans actually reduce crashes and deaths and even the scope of the problem. Anti-texting advocates like the National Safety Council claim that of the roughly 5.6 million crashes in the United States every year, 1.3 million, or 23 percent, involve a driver talking on a phone or texting. Several such groups have used such data to call for an outright ban on cellphone use in vehicles.
Yet other research describes a far different magnitude. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration most recent estimate in April 2013 found that drivers using cellphones were linked to 385 deaths in 350 fatal crashes in 2011, and 50,000 other, less serious wrecks. That's still a heavy toll from electronic distractions, and both groups agree that young drivers face the highest risks.
A more recent study found state texting bans may reduce crashes by a small amount, mostly among young drivers, but only if enforced as a primary offense. Chances are if and when ComSonics can get its anti-texting gun ready for testing, it will find many police departments ready to pull the trigger.