Police car with headlights onEnlarge Photo
When we see those flashing lights, most of us know what to do: time to pull over and dig out our registration and proof of insurance from the glove box.
But in New Jersey, police officers could soon be allowed to ask for a driver's cell phone, too. A bill proposed by state Senator James Holzapfel (R-Ocean County) would give law enforcement agents the ability to search mobile phones without a warrant.
Bill S2783 says, in part, that "whenever an operator of a motor vehicle has been involved in an accident resulting in death, bodily injury or property damage, a police officer may confiscate the operator’s hand-held wireless telephone if the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the operator was operating a hand-held wireless telephone while driving".
The aim of the bill, of course, is to reduce the number of traffic accidents caused by distracted drivers. While the U.S. fatality rate has fallen in recent years, the number of deaths attributed to distracted drivers is climbing, currently accounting for around 10% of all fatalities.
Not surprisingly, Holzapfel's bill has evoked mixed feelings among drivers. Since New Jersey already bans the use of hand-held devices, some feel this bill is completely appropriate. If you haven't been texting or talking on your phone, the reasoning goes, what have you got to be afraid of?
Opponents feel that it's an invasion of privacy -- and given America's current focus on privacy (or our lack thereof), the bill could face a tough time in Trenton.
One of the biggest problems with the bill, though, is that like the New Jersey law prohibiting the use of hand-held devices, Bill S2783 assumes that hands-free talking and texting are a-okay. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.