License, Registration and…Cellphone: N.J. Bill Would Allow Cops to Look Through Your Phone After an Accident

Those involved in car crashes in New Jersey might need to prepare themselves to hand over their license, registration and cellphone — no warrant required — to police if new legislation introduced by the state Senate becomes law.

police cellphone crash

According to the New Jersey Star-Ledger, such a law would assist in accident investigations by allowing police to see if a hand-held phone was a contributing factor. Such hand-held devices are illegal to use while operating a vehicle in the state.

Others though are protesting the legislation saying it violates Fourth Amendment protections against a search and seizure of private property without a warrant.

Here are the perspectives of both sides as presented by the Star-Ledger:

“Think about it: The chances of the cop witnessing the accident are slim to none,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Ocean), the bill’s sponsor, who has worked as a county and municipal prosecutor. “He’s dispatched, and by the time he gets there — unless they’re unconscious and the phone is in their hands, or some passenger says they were on the phone — then he’s got to do what? Subpoena the service to see if the phone was actively used or not?”

The measure is troubling to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which said it is “likely susceptible to a constitutional challenge.”

“This bill is problematic because it infringes on the privacy rights of citizens,” said Alexander Shalom, the ACLU’s state policy counsel. “Our state and federal constitutions generally require probable cause before authorizing a search, particularly when it comes to areas that contain highly personal information such as cell phones.”

But would the bill really help stop cellphone-related accidents or pinpoint the ones caused by these devices? The Star-Ledger reported Steve Carrellas with the National Motorists Association, saying it’s unlikely.

“Here’s the bottom line: If you went all through what the bill is supposedly allowing, you still can’t determine if the person with the phone actually had a distraction that contributed to a crash,” he said.

Watch this report about the controversial legislation:


Although the Highway Traffic Safety Division found there were 1,840 hand-held cellphone-related crashes in 2011 within the state, a study the same year by Wayne State University found the crash risk due to cellphone conversation (talking not texting) is about one-fourth of what previous previous studies estimated, putting the risk close to the baseline of normal driving.

(H/T: Consumerist)

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