Closings and delays

New Jersey bill would allow police to search cell phones after accidents

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A new bill making its way through the New Jersey State Senate would allow police officers to search the cell phones of those involved in car accidents without a warrant, The New Jersey Star-Ledger reported Monday.

The measure would allow police to thumb through a drivers’ cell phones to determine if they were talking or texting while driving, during the time of the accident. It would require officers to have “reasonable grounds”  to believe the law was broken.

Supporters say the measure could be an important tool for cops investigating crashes in a state where distracted driving causes a significant number of accidents and driving while using hand-held cell phones is illegal.

Opponents say it could touch off a contentious legal debate over whether giving officers such access violates a motorist’s right to privacy or protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

“Think about it: The chances of the cop witnessing the accident are slim to none,” the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. James Holzapfel told the paper. “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 American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has already spoken out in opposition of the bill saying it is, “likely susceptible to a constitutional challenge.”

There were 1,840 handheld cell phone-related crashes in New Jersey in 2011, resulting in 807 injuries and six deaths.

More at: The New Jersey Star-Ledger