Nevada bill would let police search drivers’ phones after crashes

Driving performance declines when texting

Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field.
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Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. At 55 mph, that's enough time to cover the length of a football field.

Nevada lawmakers are weighing a proposal to give police the power to search a driver’s phone if officers suspect it played a role in a crash — and a driver could risk his or her license by not handing over the phone.

Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow introduced the bill on Feb. 18, and it has been referred to the chamber’s judiciary committee, where it will be considered during a meeting on Friday, according to the state government website that tracks legislation.

Gorelow, a Democrat who represents Clark County, did not respond to McClatchy’s request for comment on the bill Monday afternoon.

A summary of the bill says it gives police power to “request access to the handheld wireless communications device of the driver of any vehicle involved in the crash,” as long as the officer “has reasonable and probable grounds to believe the driver, at or near the time of the crash, was using the handheld wireless communications device while operating the motor vehicle.”

That law enforcement officer could then “use an investigative technology device” on the phone to see if it was used during the time frame of the crash, the summary says.

But what if a driver says no to the phone search?

“If a person refuses such a request, the peace officer is required to seize the driver’s license or permit of the person and issue an order suspending the license or permit for 90 days,” the summary says.

The officer would have the option to give the driver a temporary, seven-day license if the driver is eligible, the summary of the legislation says.

A person whose license is suspended could request a hearing with the Department of Motor Vehicles to contest the suspension under the bill, and “the decision made by the Department after such a hearing is subject to judicial review” under the legislation.

But according to the text of the bill, the scope of that initial hearing would be limited to “whether the person refused the request of the peace officer to use an investigative technology device on the handheld wireless communications device in the possession of the person at the time of the crash.”

The legislation would only allow officers to scan phones for data indicating “evidence of use” and would bar police officers from “intentionally accessing or viewing any other content,” the bill text says.

The bill is designed to bolster the state’s existing ban on handheld phone use behind the wheel, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

At least one driver was wary, though.

“I respect our police department, I love what they do,” Robert McDermitt told KLAS. “But I don’t think they should be able to go that far and invade privacy.”

Most people are aware of the dangers of trying to multitask while driving, but most continue to do it anyway.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.