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New Law Could Allow for Phone Searches After Car Crashes

By Peter Clarke, JD | Last updated on

FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.

For many decades, Americans have taken to the roads to get from one place to another. And, in more recent times, Americans have become addicted to their smartphones -- texting, posting, online searching, making purchases, among many other uses of their devices.

Put the two together, driving and smartphone use, and there is a clear recipe for potential disaster. Driving an automobile already is an inherently dangerous activity. Utmost attention should be paid to driving because split-second decisions can mean the difference between life and health versus injury or death.

Unfortunately, some Americans use their smartphones in unlawful ways while driving. Yes, it can be legal in some jurisdictions to use a smartphone for calls while in hands-free mode and/or while the phone is plugged into a car like via Apple Car Play. However, in many places it is not permissible to engage in activities like looking down into a phone while using thumbs to send text messages at the same time as driving an automobile.

Indeed, there have been horrific car accidents that have been caused by unlawful use of smartphones by drivers. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted driving causes roughly 3,500 deaths annually in the United States.

And, according to, along comes a new proposed law that would allow police officers to search smartphones at the scene of automobile accidents to ascertain whether a smartphone have been used unlawfully when the accident occurred. This bill is being considered in Nevada.

As part of the bill, if a driver refuses to comply by providing his/her phone to be examined by the police officer, the driver's license would be suspended automatically for 90 days. Furthermore, if this bill becomes law, drivers would be deemed to have consented to the search of their phones, just like drivers are considered to consent to the administration of breathalyzers to potentially impaired drivers.

It will be interesting to see whether this Nevada bill becomes law, and whether other jurisdictions will take steps in this direction.

Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.

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