17-25 Segment 1: “Textalyzers” To Stop Texting While Driving

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American highways have become increasingly safe, but in the past three years, traffic fatalities have jumped by 14%. So, what’s the problem? Many say the culprit is texting and driving. According to AAA, 67% of Americans are guilty of this form of distracted driving. Ben Lieberman, co-founder of Distracted Operators Risk Casualties or DORC, has proposed that law enforcers use a “Textalyzer,” a kind of device that works like a Breathalyzer, but instead of measuring a driver’s intoxication, it measures their cell phone activity while driving.  

When Lieberman lost his son in a car accident, he suspected that there was more to the story than the driver falling asleep on the road. After obtaining the phone records of the driver, he discovered that the driver was texting throughout the drive. Lieberman says that while a drunk driver would be severely penalized for such an accident. The penalties for texting and driving are often as low as a $20 fine, and Lieberman also notes that there are currently states that don’t even have laws against texting and driving.

This led Lieberman to approach Cellebrite, a “mobile forensics” company that obtains digital data from cell phones, and together they developed a Textalyzer, a device that follows the same concept as a Breathalyzer; but instead of testing for alcohol, a Textalyzer can generate a report showing how many times a phone was accessed while driving.

While Cellebrite CEO, Jim Grady, and Ben Lieberman believe that the Textalyzer is ready for traffic enforcement, others disagree.  Rashida Richardson, Legislative Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of New York, believes that the Textalyzer infringes on the privacy and rights of others and brings up questions about racial disparity in how these laws are enforced.

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  • Ben Lieberman, founder, Distracted Operators Risk Casualties (DORCs) and Alliance Combatting Distracted Driving
  • Jim Grady, CEO Cellebrite, Inc.
  • Rashida Richardson, Legislative Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union of New York

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17-25 Segment 2: Household Chemicals

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We live in a world filled with synthetic chemicals, and Americans are exposed to upwards of 100 chemicals each day. Whether it be in our clothing, our electronics, or the toys our children play with, chemicals are ever-present and not all are safe. According to Ken Guiser, Professor of Work Environment at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and author of Chemicals Without Harm: Policies for a Sustainable World, we are often exposed to dangerous chemicals, although usually only to a very low amount. Yet we are still at risk when those chemicals become present in our homes, schools and workplaces.

It’s a common assumption among consumers that the government regulates and prohibits all dangerous or unusable chemicals, but Guiser says that’s not the case. He explains, “The way our market works, products come on to the market; the government does not test those products. They are maybe tested by product manufacturers, but those test results are often proprietary; we don’t know what they are. We often don’t even know what the chemicals are in products. The government just doesn’t have the capacity or the authority to really test hundreds and hundreds of chemicals.” Due to our free market economy, the government is not able to place many restrictions on companies and businesses, including those that would typically call for product testing. The Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) has introduced measures in the past to limit how many chemicals are leaked into our air and water, but the industry is expected to police itself on the manufacturing of products.

Guiser blames the presence of these unsafe products on a lack of information; no one has really done the research. There are approximately 87,000 chemicals in production in the United States, but of the 2,300 that the EPA conducted research on, only 138 have ever received full testing.

Outside of the United States, the reality is quite different. The European Union has released a list of 2,000 chemicals which they consider to be of concern. Guiser advises that following a European approach would be highly beneficial, and that products supplied to both Europe and the U.S. have become safer due to higher E.U. standards.

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  • Ken Geiser, Emeritus Professor of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and author, Chemicals Without Harm: Policies for a Sustainable World

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