Imagine getting into a minor fender bender on the way to work. After checking your license and registration, the police officer on the scene starts rifling through your phone, checking your most recent text messages and your call log, all to make sure being distracted your phone wasn’t the cause of the crash.
An abuse of police power? Not in New Jersey. A new law proposed by State Sen. James Holzapfel (R-Brick) would empower cops to seize drivers’ phones so long as “reasonable grounds” existed to suggest a driver may have been distracted.
Distracted driving is quickly becoming an epidemic on the road – even hands-free texting has been found to be as dangerous as drunk driving – but for police, proving a fender bender was caused by an errant text message can be difficult. Of course, that fact is by legal design: There are serious questions as to whether this new law would pass constitutional muster.
“Our state and federal constitution generally require probable cause before authorizing a search, particularly when it comes to areas that contain highly personal information with cellphones,” said Alexander Shalom of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “The legislature cannot authorize searches unless there is probable cause.”