N.J. Bill Would Allow Police To Search Drivers’ Cell Phones After Car Crashes

It isn’t just drunk drivers police in New Jersey are worried about — one state senator is introducing a bill that would allow authorities to search through drivers’ phones after an accident, likening the act of texting on them while driving to having an open bottle of booze in the car.

The bill sponsored by state Sen. James Holzapfel would allow cops to look through a driver’s phone to see if he or she was talking or texting when an accident happens, the Star-Ledger reports, if there’s “reasonable grounds” to believe the law was broken.

“To me, is it any different from an open bottle of liquor?” he said. “It may be an issue. But keep in mind that operating a vehicle is a privilege, not a right.”

Supporters of the bill see it as a good way for cops to figure out exactly how crashes have happened, but opponents are already digging in against it as a violation of privacy.

New Jersey has seen more than its share of cell phone-related crashes, with 1,840 of them in the state in 2011. Of those, there were 807 related injuries and six deaths, says the state Division of Highway Traffic Safety.

“Think about it: The chances of the cop witnessing the accident are slim to none,” said Holzapfel. “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 New Jersey Chapter of the American Civil LIberties Union already sounds squeamish about the measure, saying it’s “likely susceptible to a constitutional challenge.”

“This bill is problematic because it infringes on the privacy rights of citizens,” said 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.”

License, registration and cell phone: Bill would let N.J. cops search phones after crashes [Star-Ledger]