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State Law Prevents Cops From Searching Driver Cell Phones

A resident says the Ridgewood Police Department should explore steps to check cell phones of drivers suspected of texting while operating a vehicle, but the village police chief says the law prevents that.

Texting while driving has gotten out of control, one Ridgewood resident contends. And if Ridgewood takes bold steps it could be a model for other municipalities, Anne Loving told the council Wednesday night.

Loving said she conferred with a Westchester judge, Ridgewood Police Chief John Ward and former mayor Keith Killion (an ex-police officer) to determine the legality of officers viewing cell phones for text messages without a search warrant.

The consensus was it would arouse constitutionality problems, but Loving believes it's worth investigating further.

"Monitoring would lead to fewer accidents," Loving said. She estimated one-third of drivers along the busiests roadways in the area are texting while driving.

It's among the most dangerous distractions for drivers – it disrupts visusal, manual and cognitive function, she added.

"Ridgewood could be at the forefront," Loving said, remarking that the village was among the first departments to take action against drivers speaking on cell phones.

But not so fast, Ridgewood Police Chief John Ward says. While some states allow for police to search a phone without a warrant, many do not. The courts nationwide remain divided.

"It is not legal in the state of New Jersey," Ward told Patch. "It has been deemed unconstitutional."

According to Ward, the police cannot just grab the phone during a motor vehicle stop or at the scene of an accident. 

"We need to get a warrant to look into it," he said. "The only way we would have the opportunity to seek cell phone records is if there's probable cause to believe the phone was involved.... but we'd need a witness and/or probable cause. We can't just arbitrarily check someone's cell phone."

The department has taken some steps to curb texting-while-driving, he said.

"We try and get out there as much as we can. I wrote three or four cell phone violations in the last month-and-a-half, even with my limited availability on the road."

JAFO February 11, 2013 at 09:13 PM
First the police need to stop using the phone while driving. I see it all the time.
Rex Ryan February 11, 2013 at 09:25 PM
That's ridiculous. Have we no right to privacy? The police already overstep their boundaries in the "best interest" of the community. Have you ever been "slow followed" by one of Ridgewood's finest down Glen Ave, Ridgewood Ave or DTR? Don't you think your plate is being run?
Anne LaGrange Loving February 11, 2013 at 09:55 PM
It is against the law to text while driving in New Jersey. Although Chief Ward has told me, as well as The Patch, that warrantless searches of a driver’s cell phone are currently not legal in New Jersey, they are being conducted in other states. What is the point of having a law if it cannot be actively enforced? Who knows, maybe Ridgewood can petition Trenton to move this idea forward. The Village Council promised me that they would look into it. I look forward to the day when a driver's texting activity is checked as a matter of routine, along with his/her driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance certificate. In my opinion, this should be done for every traffic stop. Eventually drivers might come to understand that it is dangerous, as well as costly (in terms of fines or points), to text and drive. Maybe then we will have fewer accidents that don’t seem to make any sense – like a car slamming into a house, bus, or a pedestrian in plain view within a crosswalk.
Kiko Arase February 11, 2013 at 10:31 PM
One third of drivers are texting while driving? On what is that estimate based? I ocassionally see texting while driving but certainly not 1 in 3. Exaggeration aside, there should be no one texting while driving. Pull over if you must.
Rex Ryan February 11, 2013 at 11:15 PM
And I look forward to the day when a police officer can stop me and ask for identification because he doesn't like the way I look or dress, or because I look suspicious. That's not a community I want to raise my kids in.
Linda Aktar February 12, 2013 at 12:59 PM
I'm in agreement with no texting while driving. Unfortunately not all phones register the exact time of a text conversation so I'm not sure it would be of any help in a traffic stop...hard to prove possibly. I'm sure as technology advances it will change.
jp1 February 12, 2013 at 01:05 PM
I would be willing to bet one third is about right based on what i see in the area.
bsmi021 February 12, 2013 at 01:09 PM
There is no need for a "slow follow" they can use their own spedo to clock you, and the plate scanners can run at up to 10 per second I have read, there is nothing slow today when it comes to things like this.
bsmi021 February 12, 2013 at 01:17 PM
Well "SnotWrag" if you are having an issue with the cops in your town (I look forward to the day when a police officer can stop me and ask for identification because he doesn't like the way I look or dress) it might be that you look or ask like your name? Now on a better note for the people on NJ it should become normal course to be able to check a phone for any use during driving of a motor vehicle. But I have a bigger issue, with all the cuts that every town, city, state has made in the last few years, there are not enough cops on any highway to check for anything let alone texting, as in the last few years any road I have traveled is like what I call "The Wild West Show" as people do whatever they want since they know they can get away with it!!
News Man February 12, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Be patient, i will try once more for a correct LINK to help in this discussion: http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2012/09/lawsuit-accuses-dc-police-of-illegally-seizing-mans-mobile-phone.html (I will keep trying to get it right)
thetentman February 12, 2013 at 06:00 PM
I would be happy if they just got the red light runners and the fools who believe directionals are optional.
Mikka H February 12, 2013 at 07:22 PM
OMG somebody get the Loving's a hobby aside from being social gadfly pains in the ass to a freak running around taking pictures of anything that moves....PLEASE.
Kris February 12, 2013 at 08:42 PM
How ridiculous. Why not let them toss your trunk without a warrant while you're at it? Ms. Loving, find something to do besides giving away everyone else's constitutional rights why don't you.
jp1 February 12, 2013 at 10:47 PM
Including the men in blue.
Moist Cake February 13, 2013 at 03:41 AM
Wow, I find it amazing how many of YOUR rights you people just want to GIVE AWAY! For those who think its ok for officials to search YOUR property without a warrant of consent my advise is simple. Go online, read this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_in_the_World#Country_rankings and book a trip to the countries listed in purple. Watch in amazement to see how little rights any of their citizens have. We have thrown away so much of our civil liberties for the sake of security in the past decade for nothing but an illusion of security. For the meat with eyes supporting such a violation of rights protected under the fourth amendment, do us all a favor and post all of your text messages under this post, so I can read them to make sure you have not been texting and so I can read your private messages. Thanks.
Mikka H February 13, 2013 at 05:17 PM
OK LaGarage Loving.....start posting your Texts for all to see,,,,OMG I could just imagine what its like at council meetings/PDHQ when you 2 bananas show up....
OZ February 13, 2013 at 05:45 PM
Can Ridgewood be an a forefront of something good, like giving it's residents more freedom? I guess not.
Anne LaGrange Loving February 13, 2013 at 08:48 PM
I totally agree with the point/s about taking away freedoms and increased government intrusiveness. That was not my thought at all, and if this is what would come from such a procedure then I, too, would be opposed. I was not suggesting that police officers should read content, because the content would not be relevant to the accident. However, it is a valid point that if an officer looked at a phone then the content of the text could be seen. I am suggesting that it should simply be determined IF a driver was texting at the time an accident or unsafe driving event occurred. I would hope that this could deter drivers from texting, and thus decrease accidents. Those who have lost a loved one due to a careless driver (and even those who have not) would surely agree that texting should not be taking place when one is driving a car. Those who feel that the government should not intrude into our lives might be able to come up with a more positive way to cut down on texting while driving, rather than just throwing out criticisms from behind the barrier of anonymous online names.
jane shinozuka February 14, 2013 at 12:26 AM
I don't think police officers should ask for a driver's phone as a matter of course in a routine stop. However, enforcing the no texting while driving law as it already exists is an important issue. Traffic safety in Ridgewood is an undeniably grave situation. Anne LaGrange Loving broached an important subject with the Council about the dangers of texting and enforcing the law. The viability of her subsequent suggestion (and personal opinion) regarding practical enforcement doesn't deserve nasty and foolishly unrelated insults about her or her husband. Why not just disagree and offer your own (presumably better?) idea? You needn't agree to appreciate the fact that she's endeavoring to be part of the process. And with her real name...
jp1 February 14, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Good response Jane, better than the immature M.H
Kris February 14, 2013 at 08:12 PM
Here's a thought. Don't write unenforceable laws.

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