New Jersey law prohibits the use of a hand-held wireless communication device for talking or texting while driving. However, anyone who spends time in traffic in the Garden State knows that a significant portion of the motoring public ignores that law. This creates a great safety concern, since tests have shown that texting takes a driver’s attention away from the road for a dangerous amount of time. And, as the New Jersey Department of Transportation reports, 1,668 crashes in the state involved hand-held cellphone use in 2015. New Jersey police already issue almost 90,000 citations a year for these violations, carrying fines that range from $200 to $800. What more can be done to discourage the practice?
NJ.com recently reported that authorities in New York State are looking into a device called a textalyzer, which allows police to examine a cellphone to determine whether texting activity occurred around the time of a crash. Many in New Jersey are wondering whether our state should do likewise.
According to NJ.com, “Officers plug the driver’s smartphone into the textalyzer via a cord, and time-stamped information is downloaded about apps used prior to a vehicular accident.” Civil liberties advocates object to the textalyzer, calling use of the device “an invasive search into a person’s life without a warrant.” But, the definition of the search as invasive depends on the type of information the device downloads and whether a motorist has a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding that information. Theoretically, the textalyzer search could be limited in scope, but then how useful would such information be? If the textalyzer determines the driver received a text just prior to an accident, is that evidence the driver viewed the text?
We must also be skeptical any time authorities attempt to evade a warrant requirement. Warrantless searches are permissible when there is an exigency, such as imminent harm to a person or the destruction of evidence. In the case of an accident possibly caused by texting, the harm has already occurred, and there is no threat of the data going away before police could get a warrant. However, the textalyzer would allow cops to issue citations without going through the warrant process. This would make ticketing more efficient and profitable. But if total law enforcement efficiency is the goal, why do we have civil liberties at all?
There may be a way to tailor the law so the textalyzer search does not offend the Constitution, but the advantages of this tool seem slight when compared to the opportunity for abuse.
If you’ve been injured in an auto accident in Bergen County or anywhere in New Jersey, consult an experienced personal injury attorney at Seigel Law as soon as possible. Contact us online or call 201.444.4000 today for a free case evaluation.