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Monday, November 23, 2015

Proposed New Jersey Law to Allow Cell Phone Searches after Auto Accidents

Photo Credit: Maria Sachs
A new law, proposed by New Jersey State Senator James Holzapfel, seeks to allow police officers to seize and search drivers’ cellular phones after an accident provided that there are "reasonable grounds" to suspect that a driver may have been distracted.  This would allow the officer to determine whether or not the driver was using his or her phone at the time of the crash and use that information to assign liability and citations.

Texting while driving was linked to 1.3 million crashes in 2011.  The reason is simple. The minimum amount of time required to send a text is about five seconds.  Therefore, a car traveling at 55 miles per hour, with a distracted driver, will travel a distance the length of a football field without ever looking at the road.  As of this date, all but three states have laws in place that ban or limit texting while driving.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety: 2013 Map of Texting Bans

Use of phone records to determine accident liability is nothing new.  According to Damien A. Orato of Rumberger, Kirk and Caldwell, "It is now standard procedure to obtain the cell phone records of the opposing party in cases involving motor vehicle accidents."  Without phone records, it is almost impossible to prove that the other driver was texting.  Even with the records, the offending messages are often unfinished and never sent.  The New law would allow an officer to see unfinished "draft" text messages as well as those successfully sent.

The propose law is not without controversy.  Some say that it amounts to a search of personal documents without probable cause.  And according to Alexander Shalom of the ACLU-NJ, "the bill is likely susceptible to a constitutional challenge."

What do you think?  Is this a good idea or another infringement on civil rights?

Update: August 15, 2013; the bill has not been voted on yet and has garnered a lot of negative press since this article was published.  You can track the bill's progress HERE.

Update: September 23, 2013; This bill is currently before the New Jersey Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.  You can track the bill's progress HERE.

Read the Bill Here: