- Associated Press - Friday, March 1, 2019

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - Lawmakers on Friday voiced privacy concerns over a Nevada bill that would give police the ability to check drivers’ cellphones following traffic crashes.

Bill sponsor Assemblywoman Michelle Gorelow told lawmakers the measure seeks to field test drivers’ cell phone in crashes that result in serious injuries or deaths. A hearing on the bill underscored a larger debate on the intersection between law enforcement and privacy protections.

Technology from an Israel-based company would be used to see if drivers were typing or swiping on their cellphones just ahead of crashes, said Gorelow, a Democrat. Bill supporters argued the technology does not access personal content on cellphones.

Lawmakers heard emotional testimony from Ben Lieberman, whose 19-year-old son died from a crash where a driver had been texting behind the wheel.

He urged legislators to act on distracted driving and described laws allowing people to use hands-free devices as having “no teeth.”

“They cannot be enforced when damage is done, unless there is an eye witness or an unlikely confession,” he told lawmakers.

But the technology prompted privacy concerns and criticism from lawmakers that the measure violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, even as they acknowledged distracted driving as a critical problem.

The original bill would have required a driver to allow police access to their cellphone or face a 90-day suspension of their driver’s license. But an amendment brought by Gorelow withdrew the 90-day suspension penalty. It also says an officer must to obtain a warrant if a driver refuses to allow access to their cellphone.

The amendment prompted Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, a Democrat, to question whether the legislation was needed because police can get search warrants to access cellphones.

Assemblyman Tom Roberts, a Republican, says distracted driving is a problem in the state, but he predicted that the legislation could generate legal challenges. The former Las Vegas Metro police officer said he believes people have an expectation of phone privacy.

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