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Should cops routinely check cellphone records in fatal wrecks?

If someone gets killed in a collision in the Chicago metro area, can the police confiscate the other driver's cellphone to check if he or she had been texting behind the wheel or engaged in other distracting activities?

The spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department stated that when evidence like video footage or witness statements indicate that the driver may have been distracted by a mobile device before being involved in a fatal accident, the Major Accidents Investigation Unit can get a judge to issue a court order for the driver's cellphone records.

Police can seize a driver's cellphone after an accident. However, for them to examine the call log requires a court order, which is up to a judge to grant or deny.

But if nobody comes forth with any information alleging distraction played a role in the crash, it's not likely that a court order will be sought or granted. This is the case even though Illinois legislators passed "Matt's Law" only a few years ago after a bicyclist was killed by a teenager downloading a ringtone behind the wheel.

The law prohibits surfing the web, sending messages and texting while driving. It took effect in 2010.

The apparent reluctance of police to take the extra step to get a warrant to seize cellphones and records leaves survivors of those who are killed in collisions with few options for justice. After all, the person is not here to give his or her version of the fatal accident.

Illinois law does provide civil remedies to grieving families, however. If you lost a loved one in a tragic accident, you may be able to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit through the court system.

Source: Streetsblog Chicago, "Should Checking Phone Records After Serious Crashes Be Standard Practice?," John Greenfield, Jan. 12, 2017

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