A proposed law in the New Jersey State Senate would allow police officers to search a driver’s cell phone — without first securing a warrant — when determining whether the driver was texting or talking at the time of a traffic accident.
Police officers typically ask motorists to present a driver’s license and vehicle registration after an accident. Under existing law, an officer would need to request consent from the driver, apply for a search warrant, or subpoena the driver’s cell phone service in order to determine if the driver’s phone was being actively used when the accident occurred.
However, because of the recent rise in cell-phone-related accidents in New Jersey, state legislators argue that police officers should be able to more easily investigate crashes involving distracted driving. According to the State Division of Highway Traffic Safety, there were more than 1,800 such accidents in New Jersey in 2011, resulting in more than 800 injuries and six (6) fatalities.
Opponents of the proposed law express concerns over citizens’ civil liberties and privacy rights. Allowing law enforcement officers to demand drivers’ phones, they say, could violate fourth amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure. Opponents are particularly troubled by the proposed law because cell phones could contain highly personal information. However, backers of the legislation respond that the law would only allow officers to search drivers’ cell phones when officers have “reasonable grounds” to believe the law was broken. Using a cell phone while driving, they say, is already a violation of New Jersey law. Additionally, officers would be required to return the phone immediately after they’ve reviewed the data.
If enacted, the new law could have serious ramifications for traffic violations in New Jersey, including DWI offenses and reckless driving charges.
Legal experts believe that, at some point, the United States Supreme Court is going to have no choice but to weigh in on this contentious issue.
For more information, see the TeaneckPatch.com article entitled “‘License, Registration and Cell Phone,’ NJ Cops May Soon Tell Drivers.“
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