AUSTIN (KXAN) — New technology created by current and former police officers from Texas may change traffic stops for minor violations.
It’s called Trusted Driver, a contact-free way for officers to give a warning or citation without pulling over the driver.
“I have three young driving sons and I’ve seen what happens around the country when there are miscommunications between police officers and drivers that lead to harm. I think we should do everything we can to eliminate that,” said Former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson.
The first African American Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court is throwing his support behind Trusted Driver as a consultant.
“I started talking to friends of mine from San Antonio, who are former police officers, and they have a new platform that can eliminate the need for traffic stops and for that reason get rid of the chance for death and injury for minor traffic violations. I thought that made perfect sense,” said Jefferson.
It only works when both police agencies and drivers sign up for the voluntary program by registering their phone number and other information through the company.
Once in place, officers can notify the driver by phone and issue a warning or citation for a minor traffic violation like a broken tail light or expired registration.
“You’re not supposed to drive around with missing headlights or expired registrations. So the police officer will pull behind you and instead of turning on the lights, which raises tension, the officer will send an electronic message, ‘are you the driver that is enrolled in Trusted Driver?’ and here’s the violation. That’s pretty much it,” said Jefferson.
It’s all done electronically, even the opportunity to contest the citation.
The driver doesn’t have to drive down to municipal court to contest it. You can do all of that online. And if there is a hearing that has to occur, that can be done online as well. I mean, that’s the future,” said Jefferson.
While the recently-launched technology can be an option for minor violations, it doesn’t take away the officer’s discretion to stop a driver if needed. Jefferson said it even helps with police accountability.
“Trusted Driver also collects data for not only the police officer, but municipalities and DPS in Texas, for example,” said Wallace.
“You can tell a city council, or the state of Texas can tell if the system is being abused if the officer is using it too much, using it for profiling or for other inappropriate reasons. You don’t sacrifice the rule of law, you increase accountability and you minimize, the threat to the officer and the driving public.”
When we checked, only one Texas city has signed up for the program since it launched last year.
A spokesperson for the company told KXAN Trusted Driver is being used by Windcrest City in Bexar County and says more agencies have shown increased interest in using the technology.
The company said it can also be extremely useful for deaf and hearing impaired drivers as well.
“If a police officer pulls you over for speeding and the officer issues verbal commands that you can’t hear well, the officer doesn’t know what’s happening when you’re not following these commands. With trusted driver you can input into the system, the fact that you are hearing impaired or deaf and the officer has a lot more information before walking up to the vehicle. I think that’s a very valuable asset,” said Jefferson.
Trusted Driver said it has already established partnerships with groups that advocate for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as Deaf Link and Access Vine (based in Austin).
You can sign up for Trusted Driver and check if police in your city are using it online.