When it comes to distracted driving, the authorities might be done playing nice.
Police have warned us, begged us and even tried to force us to stop texting and calling while we're behind the wheel. And still, says U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, some 3,000 people were killed in 2011, and 387,000 more were injured, thanks to distracted drivers.
So what else can they do? Well, if we're in a fender bender in New Jersey, the police there might soon have the authority to check our phones. Yep, right there on the spot.
That's the proposition brought on by New Jersey state Sen. James Holzapfel. If he has his way, then the police there might have broader power to seize mobile phones whenever there are "reasonable grounds" to think that cell phone distraction caused an accident. Of course, this isn't like getting your cellie taken by a teacher during math class, it would be worse. The officer would be allowed to thumb through your call, text, chat and other logs, to see if you were engaged in your device when you should have been paying attention.
Had this measure come up last year, it probably would've been embraced much more fully. But now it suffers from horrible timing, considering the public is still reeling from the revelation about the government's data surveillance tactics. Any state that pushes legislation requiring folks to give up their devices for a search on demand, without any warrants, may have quite the battle on its hands.
Indeed, this is raising red flags for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which cites that probable cause is generally needed in matters pertaining to personal information. Without it, the legislation would be unconstitutional.
The matter could hinge on what constitutes "reasonable grounds." Unlike drinking and driving, texting doesn't leave a scent, and people don't act loopy after they've had a call or several.
No doubt, there's a lot at stake here. All eyes will be on the state as it ushers this bill to the voting floor, because if it succeeds here, you can bet it won't be long before other states adopt it as well.
What do you think? Is this a great idea that can save untold lives, or is it unconstitutional and yet another breach of privacy?