Posted with permission from NJ.com

A gadget that would allow police to search a motorist's phone to determine whether texting and driving was involved in an accident, was not popular among NJ.com readers.

Still, the gadget -- called the 'Textalyzer' -- or one like it, could see a roll out in New Jersey. 

Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) introduced a similar bill in June 2016. The legislation, which would allow officers to survey drivers' cell phones using an "electronic scanning device," currently sits in the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee. 

He said he introduced the bill after seeing similar efforts in New York. 

"In a lot of cases, you need to know whether or not the cell phone was involved in an accident... to identify the cause," he said. "We have to find out why someone lost a life, why somebody was terribly injured or why property was destroyed." 

Under Codey's bill, a driver could be fined anywhere from $300 to $1,000 and have their license revoked for up to 10 years if they refuse to give their cell phone to an officer, depending on the number of past offenses. 

But some civil liberties groups worry the 'textalyzer' violates motorists' privacy and the Fourth Amendment. The gadget is plugged into a driver's smartphone and time-stamped information is downloaded about apps used prior to an accident.

Policy Counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union Alex Shalom said that while the technology addresses a "real and significant problem," the government would be overstepping its bounds. 

"It is an invasive search into a person's life without a warrant. You can always go to a judge with probable cause... to issue a search warrant."

Shelia Dunn, communications director for the National Motorists Association, said at the moment, the 'textalyzer' is not properly regulated to protect drivers.

"A lot of devices are coming to the market are being tested right now, but the regulations are not there to protect drivers," Dunn said. 

In an unscientific poll, NJ.com asked readers whether New Jersey should also use the tool-- called the 'Textalyzer'-- at the scene of accidents. Officers would be able to plug a driver's smartphone into the device via a cord, and time-stamped information would be downloaded about apps used prior to an accident. 

Of the 1,000 people who responded, 62 percent said the the Garden State shouldn't give officers the ability to look through a person's phone without a warrant, while 33 percent said yes. Five percent were not sure. 

AK says: This seems like it should be a cut-and-dried constitutional issue.  And the answer is probably: NOT WITHOUT A WARRANT!

And Bob: Those that would trade freedom for safety, will soon have neither.

But there is also a frustration about what should be done.

DaddyMack: please tell me -- anybody else got any bright ideas how to stop this madness?  it has to stop -- but how?  i couldn't care at all you want to veer off the road in these single-car accidents.  Text away, go right for the trees.  but these accidents of crossing over the center line and head-on crashing...how do you propose we get the cell phones out of people's hands?

Even before Codey's proposal, Sen. James Holzapel (R-Ocean) introduced a similar bill in 2013 that would have allowed cops to search a person's phone without a warrant. 

Codey, however, says his bill does not violate motorists' privacy because officers would only look at the time a message was sent or an app was used, not content on the phone. 

"We've taken care of privacy concerns... They can't get content at all, only time," Codey said. "They would only look at the time." 

He hopes move the bill to the floor of both houses by the fall and reintroduce it in January if it's not voted on by the end of the year. 

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday the state would move forward and review technology used by the Textalyzer, despite pushback from privacy advocates. 

In 2015, 1,668 crashes related to cell phone usage occurred in New Jersey, according to the state's Department of Transportation. Hand-free devices were the cause of 1,903 accidents.