NY dad who lost son to distracted driver wants Chicago to adopt ‘textalyzer’

SHARE NY dad who lost son to distracted driver wants Chicago to adopt ‘textalyzer’

Chicago City Hall. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

A New York father who lost his 19-year-old son in a crash caused by a distracted driver urged Chicago aldermen Thursday to use technology to prevent similar tragedies.

Ben Lieberman wants Chicago to follow New York’s lead and consider using a so-called “textalyzer” to detect whether motorists had been distracted by their cellphones before an injury-related crash.

At Lieberman’s behest, the City Council’s Public Safety Committee approved a resolution urging Chicago Police officials to address the emerging technology before the panel.

“It’s not an easy topic for you to hear. And it’s certainly not the easiest for me to communicate. But it’s not the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It was much more difficult writing my son’s eulogy. And I’d like to prevent others,” Lieberman told aldermen.

“This is a problem that’s begging for a solution. Drivers need to worry about the lives that are in their hands and not the cellphones that are in their hands. … It’s not an easy road. It’s gonna take some courageous people. [But] I think this committee could be the start of something special.”

The resolution that triggered Thursday’s hearing was co-sponsored by Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th). Alderman got a brief demonstration of the “textalyzer” being developed by Israeli mobile forensics company Cellebrite.

A driver can hold on to the phone as it’s connected and scanned by the device, which is the size of an iPad.

The ACLU is “leery” due to privacy concerns, which Lieberman tried to address.

“In 90 seconds — without the phone leaving the driver’s hand — the technology generates a report that details typing and swiping, but couldn’t get personal content if it wanted to. And it differentiates between legal blue-tooth and voice activation,” Lieberman said.

“This is less invasive than anything we have right now. If you go to get a phone record, it will show you a contact name. It will show you a phone number. [The “textalyzer” is] jumping through hoops to respect privacy.”

Lieberman’s son was sleeping in the back seat of a car driven by a friend when the crash — caused by a distracted driver who was never prosecuted — occurred near West Point.

If Chicago doesn’t take advantage of the technology, Lieberman is convinced there will be more grieving parents.

“I’m certain about that,” he said. “I think more people will die from this than [in] the Vietnam War within 10 years.”

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