When you’re in a car accident it’s expected that you’ll give the police your driver’s license and insurance information, but if a new bill proposed in New Jersey passes, you could be asked to give them something else as well: your cell phone.
The reasoning behind this legislation? To help police determine if distracted driving was the cause of the accident, particularly as a result of talking or texting while driving. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety states that police reports and eyewitness testimony aren’t all that effective in determining if distracted driving is a factor in accidents; the best way to determine this is to look at drivers’ call records and text messages.
This proposed legislation may make it easier to determine the cause of accidents, but the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey raises some serious concerns about its ramifications. Under the proposed bill, police officers would only be able to check your cell phone if they had reasonable cause to suspect you were using it at the time of the accident (and they’d have to give it back right away), but what would be considered “probable cause” in this situation? Since accidents can be caused by many things, including distractions that do not involve cell phones, the use of this legislation to check drivers’ cell phones would certainly be hotly contested by civil rights advocates and car accident lawyers alike.
The main issue at stake here is privacy. In the wake of the recent revelation that our phone calls and online activities are being monitored by the government, people are becoming more concerned with keeping their daily activities private. Since we use cell phones in all aspects of our lives, many people would be very resistant to allowing the police to look through personal texts or calls. To add further complication to the issue, what would happen if police were to come across potentially incriminating material in the phone? Would this information be legally admissible in court under the plain view doctrine, or would police only be able to address the time a phone call or text was sent?
While this kind of legislation could possibly help determine if distracted driving was involved in car accidents, it opens a whole new can of worms in terms of the legal issues it would create.
What do you think? A smart way to crackdown on distracted driving, or a violation of constitutional rights? Share your thoughts below!